HOW TO USE MUSIC LEGALLY IN YOUR WORK: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: WHEN DO I NEED A LICENSE TO USE MUSIC IN MY WORK?
A: You need to acquire a license when you want to take music that you have not
personally created and use it as a soundtrack in your production. Acquiring a license
gives you the legal right to include someone else’s copyrighted work as a part of
your own work.
Q: WHAT IS A COPYRIGHT?
A: Copyright is a federal law that protects creators by giving them exclusive rights
to their works. Once a work is under copyright, it is illegal to use the work without
the permission of the copyright owner.
Q: HOW DOES COPYRIGHT EFFECT MY DECISION TO USE MUSIC?
A: Music that has been recorded and issued on CD is protected by 2 copyrights. To
use a recording of a musical composition in your work, you need to get permission
from both copyright holders.
The first permission you need is from the music’s publisher. The music publisher
holds the copyright for the actual written music – the melody, the lyrics, the
accompaniment, the actual music as it would appear in sheet music. This copyright
is shown by using the familiar © symbol.
The second permission is for the recording itself. To get this, you would approach
the record company that released the recording. The record company holds the
copyright for the actual performance of the song captured and mastered on tape
and released on CD. The symbol for this copyright is the letter (P) inside a circle.
(look on the back of your own Cds, you will see these symbols in use). (Author’s
Note: This is where we used the 2 small graphics in the html version showing the (C)
and (P) copyrights)
Q: HOW DO I GET PERMISSION TO USE COPYRIGHTED MUSIC?
A: The fact that music is protected by copyright doesn’t mean you cannot use it, it
simply means you have to seek permission to use it. To receive that permission you
will typically have to pay a licensing fee.
Q: WHAT LICENSE DO I NEED?
A: Here are the licenses you need for the right to use music in your media project:
Synchronization License – This license is issued from the music publisher. The
Synchronization License (often abbreviated as sync license) gives you the right to
“synchronize” the copyrighted music with your images and dialogue
Note: Having a sync license means you have permission from the publisher to use
the music but it doesn’t give you the right to use a specific recording of the
composition. For that you need the following…
Master Use License – This license is issued directly from the record company. Fees
can range from several hundred dollars to millions of dollars depending on the
popularity of the music.
Once you have paid the music publisher for a Sync License and the record company
for a Master Use license, you have the legal right to use the music in your
This article is about music that is under copyright and NOT in the public domain.
Music written before 1933 is in the public domain and can be used without having
to acquire a synchronization license (you still need a master use license if you use a
recording of a piece in the public domain). Music written after 1933 is still under
copyright according to US law. I hope to discuss the public domain in more detail in
a future article.
Q: WHAT ARE PRODUCTION MUSIC CDS?
A: As you can see from the process described above, licensing music can be a time-
intensive, form-laden, and expensive process. Using Production Music CDs (also
referred to as Royalty Free Music CDs), is the quickest and easiest way to license
music. When you buy music from a production music library, you are immediately
granted both synchronization and master use rights to use the music in your work.
Production Music fills a niche for producers who don’t have a million dollar music
budget and can’t afford to license a major hit song. Production Music gives the
smaller, independent producer the ability to use music soundtracks in his or her
Q: IS PRODUCTION MUSIC UNDER COPYRIGHT?
A: Production music is protected by both the (C) and (P) copyrights. When you buy a
track from a production music library, you’ll receive a license agreement which gives
you both synchronization and master use rights.
Production Music is not copyright-free as some have termed it. It is fully protected
by copyright law. With production music you get ease of licensing. You don’t have
to contact several sources to seek sync and master use licenses.
Q: CAN I LICENSE A FAMOUS SONG FROM A PRODUCTION MUSIC LIBRARY?
A: There are no production music pop hits. You won’t find an Eminem track in a
production music library. To use an Eminem cut you would have to negotiate a
license with Interscope Records. That’s not to say you can’t find Hip Hop tracks in
production music libraries but you won’t find current or past pop hits.
Unlike a pop song, production music is composed to be used specifically as
background music. It is usually instrumental, with no vocals or lyrics, and is similar
to a film soundtrack.
Q: HOW OFTEN CAN I USE PRODUCTION MUSIC TRACKS?
A: The license agreement grants you very broad usage rights. For instance, with the
license agreement from my company, UniqueTracks, you are not limited to one-time
usage; you can use the music again in any other production you create. You don’t
have to inform us of your intent to use or report back once the production is
complete. Once you have purchased the music, you are free and clear to use it as
often as you like within the boundaries stated by the license (i.e. the music has to
be used in synchronization with narration or visuals)
The simplicity of Production music licensing makes it a perfect choice for corporate
videos, Flash animations, PowerPoint presentations, independent film, multimedia
applications, – virtually anywhere where music is helpful but where the project
budget doesn’t included hundreds of thousands of dollars to license expensive