Introduction to Music Rights in Motion Pictures
By Brandon A. Blake,
Practice-Standard Licenses for Films
the film industry a filmmaker must obtain two different kinds of
licenses to any song or musical composition before he or she can use
that song in a film. If the filmmaker wants to use a prerecorded song,
for example a track off of a favorite CD, then the filmmaker must also
obtain a third license to that song.
first right gives the filmmaker the power to synchronize the music with
the film or video production, to literally record the music onto the
film or tape. However, this is not the right to record a song directly
off of a CD, tape, record, or other media.
second right gives the filmmaker
the right to show the film or video to the public with
the recorded music. This right is
needed when the filmmaker, theater, video distributor,
or other distribution outlet exhibits the film. It is
the responsibility of the filmmaker to secure this
license, even if the film is
eventually sold to a major studio.
third license gives the filmmaker the
right to copy a song directly off of a prerecorded
source, like a CD or tape, and use it in the film.
This is not the same as the other two rights above and
must be obtained in addition to the other two rights
if the filmmaker is going to record a song directly
off of a prerecorded source.
These three licenses give the filmmaker the right
to use different aspects of a song or a recording.
Where to Obtain Licenses
Generally, there are four different groups that can
be contacted about obtaining music licenses; the publishing
company, the songwriter, the record
company, and performing rights societies.
The publishing company: This company
controls the inventory of rights of a song; often it
is a division of the record company. Publishing
companies usually own the rights to a song and can
grant two of the three licenses.
The songwriter: This artist wrote the lyrics
and the composition; he may or may not be the person
who actually sang and performed the music on stage.
The songwriter may be able to grant certain rights