Music Licensing & Copyright

The music license agreement is a major part of thousands of videos, games, pieces of software, films, and adverts. These agreements can range from simple to complicated, and two are rarely alike. As a result, it’s essential that you understand your music license agreements and how they affect what you can do with the music. Music license agreements exist for a reason, and it’s essential you understand what your contract contains.

License-Free Music

What is license-free music? This is music that doesn’t need a license, whether its public domain or the license has explicitly been waived by the music creator. Music in the public domain doesn’t need a license because its copyright has expired.

If the music was produced and recorded before 1925, it almost certainly isn’t covered by copyright. And those who produced music before 1963 had to explicitly apply for copyright so that it was protected.

However, all music produced after 1978 is covered by automatic copyright protection for the life of the creator plus 70 years. (Alternatively, it’s 95 years after it was published or 120 years after creation, whichever is sooner, for anonymous works and corporate works). For example, a musician might publish a piece of music in 1980 when they are 20 years old. If they die at the age of 100, that piece is covered under copyright until 2130.

Mechanical/Synchronization Licenses and Master Licenses

There’s also the problem of the difference between a mechanical/synchronization license and a master license.

The composition of the song is protected by a mechanical license, also called a synchronization license. This license covers the words, the tune and the exact arrangement of the song.

The recording itself, which is what you hear, is protected by a master license.

This means that you can have a public domain tune that is still protected by copyright. If Taylor Swift sang a version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, the recording would be copyrighted, but the words, tune and lyrics would not. A music license agreement would be needed.

Creative Commons Music License Agreement

A Creative Commons license is a little different from most music licenses. Six types of Creative Commons licenses are available:

  • CC BY: This gives full permission to use music and adapt it. The user must credit the creator.
  • CC BY-SA: This gives full permission to use music and adapt it provided the user shares it under a similar license. In addition, the user must credit the creator.
  • CC BY-NC: This gives permission to use music and adapt it for non-commercial use only. The user must credit the creator.
  • CC BY-NC-SA: This gives permission to use music and adapt it for non-commercial use only. The user must credit the creator, and adaptations must be shared under the same license.
  • CC BY-ND: This allows copies and distribution, provided the music is not adapted. It permits commercial use. The user must credit the creator.
  • CC BY-NC-ND: This allows copies and distribution, provided the music is not adapted. It does not permit commercial use, and the user must credit the creator.

If you choose to go down the Creative Commons route, it’s essential you understand which license you are using.

Licensing Under Creative Commons

These music license agreements are primarily built on trust, but they are legally enforceable. Failure to credit a creator is a breach of the license term. Similarly, commercial use of a piece that is licensed for non-commercial use only is also a breach. This means you must be careful about using Creative Commons music, as monetization of a channel could be regarded as commercial use.

The other problem with Creative Commons-licensed music is that there is no guarantee that the music is legitimately the work of the uploader. There are around 1.2 billion items of Creative Commons-licensed media, including photos, films and music, and there are few authorities actively checking them. It’s only when it’s uploaded as part of something else that infringing material may be spotted. After that, you have little recourse, even if you used it in good faith.

Royalty-Free Music License Agreement

When it comes to paid-for music services, the royalty-free music license agreement is typically one of the broadest. You pay a set fee for the piece of music. In the agreement, you agreed that you paid adequate compensation for the piece and that you have a non-exclusive license for it.

A nonexclusive license simply means that other people can use it as well, and you are not paying for the exclusive use of the piece.

In most cases, there will be a list of restrictions. These restrictions cover a broad range of uses.

In most cases, a basic royalty-free audio license will cover personal video projects and student projects, web streaming and monetization. However, it may not cover things like wedding and event videos, small business media projects and adverts. You may need an enhanced license for that.

In many cases, the royalty-free agreement will restrict you from using the piece of music as a stand-alone work (e.g., on a CD). It may also have some restrictions on its use in certain genres. Essentially, it will protect its own creators from having their work used in pornography, libelous or illegal content. Some may also restrict use in works for political purposes.

Rights-Managed Audio Licenses

Those looking for professional audio for films, games and theatrical performances will generally need a more inclusive license. These typically start to fall under rights-managed licenses. In most cases, these will be calculated based on the likely or actual distribution of the media in question. A music license for a radio documentary may cost less than one for a Netflix series.

A rights-managed license lets you use audio exclusively for a particular amount of time in a particular territory. Essentially, it ensures that your music is unique. However, this can mean some serious expense. Securing sole rights for a piece of music can be tricky, and music creators rarely want to give them up cheaply.

This is part of the problem behind a lot of streaming platforms. They have a right to use a piece of media in certain territories but not in others. Netflix, for example, can stream Star Trek Discovery in the United Kingdom, but they don’t have the rights to it in the United States. It’s the same principle.

These restrictions usually set out what the work is for, how long the license can be held for and in what territories it covers. In addition, there may be a royalty fee specified if distribution is much higher than anticipated.

However, if you are looking at rights-managed music licenses, it’s likely that you have a legal team that can look over the licensing agreements.

Getting the Music You Need: Audiosocket

At Audiosocket, we understand that one size doesn’t fit all. That is why we have customized plans to meet every budget and need, all while offering a huge variety of high quality, original tracks. If you need good music on a budget that caters to your specific requirements, Audiosocket likely has just what you need. Our music catalog is easy to search, and you can find the exact genre, tempo and sound you want for your video. We can even handle music for film, television and theater use. Talk to us today, and let us handle all your music licensing needs at a price you can afford.

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