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Music Rights

October 13, 2011


Author Gareth Cousins has 25 years experience in working on music for pictures. Originally trained as an engineer/producer at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, he has since become a busy producer and composer of music for film, television and advertising. Recent commercial work includes FIFA (2014 World Cup), Rolls-Royce, MIG, Motorola and Cadbury.


Once you’ve worked out what budget you need for music in a PR or marketing campaign, what rights do you need? From the outside it seems like a thorny and complex issue, but composer Gareth Cousins explains:

  1. a.               Music Rights Explained

Whenever a piece of music, or other creative work, is created, it becomes the Intellectual Property of the creator. This is true whether the music created is a three second sting (such as the Intel mnemonic), a pop song or a huge orchestral work.


In the UK, music rights are assigned to the PRS so that performances can be kept track of and the composers fairly compensated for their performances. The amount of royalty the composer receives depends on the length of the music and the medium is broadcast on.


This is a very well established operation and has been going for over 100 years. The royalties gather provide an essential stream of income without which the music industry (and composers in particular) would struggle to survive.


There is commonly confusion about how PRS royalty payments are made, and who makes them. Production companies or advertising agencies sometimes believe they are responsible for them, but this is never the case. These payments are the sole responsibility of broadcasters (such as BBC and ITV) or content providers (such as YouTube) who play a levy (called a blanket license) to the PRS based on the amount of music they use in a given period of time.


For this reason, composers are not able to give a 100% buyout of all of their rights to a piece of music they have composed, as is sometimes requested by clients. This is not possible while their music is controlled by the PRS (or by the associated companies abroad such as ASCAP or BMI). But it not necessary in any case, as explained above, the costs of broadcasting music are not borne by the composer’s clients, but by the broadcaster of the music.

  1. b.              What copyright exists in music

There are principally three types of copyright to consider when we talk about music copyright.

  1. Composition or Publishing Rights (the underlying structure of the song, including melodies, lyrics, chords, etc.). This is usually controlled by the composer and/or a publishing company.

  2. Sound Recording or Master Rights (the fixed master recording and/or audio file).  Record labels and recording artists or composers own and control the master rights.

  3. Musical Performance rights. These rights are usually owned by whoever owns the sound recording, and are the rights to use the actual performances the musicians and singers have recorded.


  1. c.               What rights do I need then?

You need to obtain a synchronisation license from the composer in order to use the composed music in conjunction with the images it was written to go with. That license will usually form part of the contract between yourself (as the music commissioner) and the composer. It is not usually necessary to own the Sound Recording or control the Publishing Rights, as the synchronization license will allow you to use the music exactly as if you did own those rights, when the music is synchronized to your project. You will not be able to use the music for any other purpose without agreement from the composer or company that owns the copyrights.


Standard Terms

The license will state whether it is exclusive or non-exclusive. For original music branding purposes it is probably better to negotiate exclusive usage so that the music is not heard in conjunction with another brand. (This will be more expensive).


It will name the project that the music will synchronised to. Any other usage will have to be negotiated separately.


The length of time the license is valid for, and in which territories, will be defined, as well as the media that it may be used in.


The fee payable to the composer in respect of the license rights will be stated, and a declaration that this includes all third party costs will be made.


A declaration will be made by the composer that the work is original, they own the work, and they are free to assign the rights.

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