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Song and Recording Copyrights – Requirements to Manufacture and Distribute Copies - page 1 / 1





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Song and Recording Copyrights – Requirements to Manufacture and Distribute Copies

Licensing of Songs: Mechanical, Master Use and Synchronization Licensing

Section 115 of the Copyright Act provides that once a song has been recorded and publicly distributed, the publisher is required to license the song, in exchange for a fee, to anyone who wants to record and distribute the song. Organizations and trade associations have been administering these statutory license fees for music publishers.  (Compulsory mechanical licensing)

Anyone seeking to obtain a license (i.e., permission) to make and distribute copies of a recording of a song must first understand that his or her use will normally involve not one, but two copyrights: (a) the copyright in the sound recording (master use license) and (b) the copyright in the underlying song, or musical work (compulsory mechanical license). The copyright in a sound recording, in particular a series of sounds, is completely separate from the copyright in the underlying song featured in the sound recording.

For example, there exists a valid copyright in the song I've Got You Under My Skin by Cole Porter and the copyright is owned by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., a music publishing company. At the same time, several records of I've Got You Under My Skin have been recorded by numerous recording artists over the years. A completely separate copyright exists for each particular recording -- the sequence of sounds that make up the performance of the song by a singer and orchestra. These recordings are owned by the respective record companies that commissioned their creation. For example, the 1956 version of Frank Sinatra's recording of I've Got You Under My Skin is owned by Capitol Records.

Thus, if you wished to obtain licensing to use (make copies and distribute) Sinatra's 1956 recording of I've Got You Under My Skin, you would require a master use license from Capitol Records to use the recording and a compulsory mechanical license from Warner/Chappell to use the underlying song. You could not use the recording without licensing from both companies.

If you wished to make a new recording of the song I've Got You Under My Skin, you would be required to obtain a compulsory mechanical license from Warner/Chappell.  Of course, you would not be required to obtain a master use license from Capitol Records or any other record company who happens to own a recording of the song since you are not using their particular recording.

A third type of licensing comes into effect when the song is to be used in conjunction with video images.  This licensing is called a synchronization license.  A synchronization license is required to permit the accompaniment of a moving image with the underlying musical piece. Consequently, the synchronization license is required for DVDs and CD-ROMs where copyrighted music is combined with video.

The synchronization license is a grant from the writer / publisher or their licensor to the producer of the visual work which authorizes the utilization of the underlying musical composition.

The synchronization license does not permit the use of any specific recording of the particular musical composition. A separate recording or master use license is required for such a use.

A synchronization license is similar to a mechanical license, in that any proceeds go to the benefit of the writer /publisher (i.e. the owner of the copyright in the underlying work). However, unlike mechanical licensing, synchronization licensing is not compulsory.  Licenses for use of music in films and videos must therefore be negotiated on an individual basis between the copyright owner and the prospective user.  Ranges can vary as low as free for something like an unknown and un-released song for a local charitable fundraiser, to up to $250,000 or more for something like a major artist’s hit song featured in a high-budget feature film. The owner of the copyrighted work may refuse to grant a synchronization license.  Generally, however, synchronization fees are determined and negotiated by custom and practice based on a number of objective and subjective factors.  For motion picture use, payment in full from the producer to the licensor is the norm.

Continuing with the above example, to use any portion of the Capitol Records’ Frank Sinatra recording of the Cole Porter written song owned by Warner/Chappell in a CD-ROM or DVD video piece produced by your client would require:

master use licensing from Capitol Records

synchronization / mechanical licensing from Warner/Chappell

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