A definition of a license

A license grants the licensee permission, consent or clearance to use the copyrighted work according to the terms specified by the licensor, who is the owner of the copyright.

Licenses may be (1) Exclusive, (2) Sole or (3) Non-exclusive .

An exclusive license grants the licensee the power to exercise the copyright to the exclusion of all others – including the licensor.  If the term of this agreement is long, the license becomes very close to an assignment of copyright.

A sole license names the licensee as the  only person, other than the owner of the copyright,  who is allowed use the copyrighted work.

A non-exclusive license grants the licensee the right to use the copyrighted work, but allows the licensor to also license the copyrighted work to others, and to continue to use the work themselves.

All licensees must abide by the terms of the licensing agreement.  The licensing agreement will set out the terms of use granted to the licensee including any prohibited uses, as well as the time period during which the license will operate.

Licensing music for use in Film and TV

Sync licenses

Whenever a copyrighted musical composition is used in combination with a visual image, a music synchronization license from the copyright owner is required.  A masters use license may also be required (see section below).  A music synchronization license – or sync license, for short – is a license granted by the music publisher (or original copyright owner, if the author is self published) to a licensee for the use of the composition in “timed synchronisation” with some kind of media output. Any time a musical composition is used in TV or film, a synch license is required.

A synch license tends to grant to a licensee the non-exclusive right to do the following in sync with their film or television production: (1) to record and edit the musical composition (2) to make copies of this recording (3) to perform the musical composition in theaters, through broadcast and cablecast, and (3) to reproduce and sell it through home videos of the production (DVD’s, etc

The sync license may also provide for use of the musical composition for promotional purposes of the production, such as advertising. Popular musicians or those with a “hit” song may be able to get additional compensation for such extra uses. For relatively unknown musicians, however, the additional exposure gained from such uses may be valuable enough to require no extra fee.

Every synch license will tend to address in its terms: the type of use (film, trailer, commercial, etc) the duration of the use (is it 30 seconds of the song or the whole thing?), the prominence of the song I (in the context of the film, commercial, etc), the specific rights granted (such as the right not only to use the composition in the work, but to distribute it), the territory in which the license applies (such as Canada and the USA), the number of plays  of the song (if it is to be limited within different territories or markets), and any necessary waiver or consent needed by the original author in order to protect their moral rights (such as in the case of distortion of the original composition). It will also tend to require credit be given to the composition’s author.

Masters use license

If the licensee would like to use an already recorded version of a musical composition, they will have to get a “masters use” license from the owner of that recording, in addition to the sync license they receive from the owner of the underlying composition.  Sometimes the same person owns the master and the musical composition, but often the record label that recorded the master will own the recording, while the songwriter and/or publisher will own the underlying musical composition.  (For more information on the distinction between these kinds of copyrights, please see this website’s section on the subject).

Masters use licenses can be costly, which is why film and TV production companies may seek a synch license only, and re-record the musical composition themselves.  The fee required from the master’s owner will depend on an array of factors, including the popularity of the song, the stature of the artist, and how the music is to be used in the film (is it used in a trivial way, or does it accompany a major turning point in the film’s story?)