Music Copyright can be particularly confusing, especially when it comes to adding (synching) music to moving picture such as a film or video. We will do our best to explain! let’s dive right in.
Sound Recordings (SR) and Performing Arts (PA)
There are 2 main types of copyrights associate with recorded music: Sound Recording and Performing Arts. A Performing Arts (PA) registration covers the copyright of a compositional work, which would cover music as well as lyrics. Copyright for a sound recording is an SR registration and treats the recording alone, of a 1-time performance as original material, and therefore requires a separate registration. It does not copyright the specific composition or work being recorded. Distributing, broadcasting, a recording of a song, as well as synching it to a film or even adding it to a YouTube video requires permission from both the Sound Recording and Performing Arts copyright holders. Depending on the use, this is done through the process of mechanical licenses, performance licenses and synch licenses. More on these later.
U.S. Copyright Law
Copyright laws differ from country to country, which can be frustrating but that’s nothing compared to U.S. copyright law pre 1972. Until recent years US copyright law had only protected sound recordings since 1972. Before this time there was only federal copyright registration available for the underlying musical composition (PA). Sound recordings were protected state by state, each with their own set of laws. To solve this issue, federal legislation that was passed now protects these recordings until 2067. Any sound recording created after 1972 is protected for the life span of the owner plus 70 years. In the case where the sound recording is a work for hire, it is 95 years from publication 0r 120 year total if not published, which ever comes first. PA copyrights last for the life of the composer plus 70 years. done!
What happens when copyrights are expired? The works go into the public domain.
Music Copyright Examples
Selling Albums and Singles
SA and PA are best understood in an example. The song “Luck Be a Lady” was written by Frank Loesser in 1950 and originally used for the musical Guys and Dolls. Frank Sinatra made a recording of this song; it was recorded and released by Reprise Records. Since it wasn’t an original song on his album, Reprise was the owner of the SR registration, and the writer, Frank Loesser owned the PA registration. As copies of the recording were sold, all revenue went to the sound recording copyright holder, in this case Reprise, and then Reprise paid a royalty to the PA holder, in the form of Mechanical Royalties. When the Luck Be a Lady ended up on a compilation or a movie soundtrack, a royalty was negotiated and paid to Reprise for the sound recording copyright, and Mechanical Royalties were also paid to the Performing rights holder.
Synching to Picture
In order to use a musical composition in a movie, you need to get a license from the PA copyright owner(s). In order to use a specific recording of a song, you need to get a sync license from the copyright owner of the sound recording as well as rights for the musical composition from the publishing company and writer/composer who administer the PA. Using the above example, permission to use the Frank Sinatra version of released by Reprise for use in Mrs. Doubtfire would be granted by Reprise Records for the SR, Frank Loesser and his Publisher for the PA. Synch Fees would be collected for this use (performance royalties would be collected and distributed as well as Mrs. Doubfire broadcasted) by the label and publisher(s). Making a new recording from a well-known musical composition for a movie is not uncommon because it can be less expensive than licensing the original recording for the sound recording copyright holder. Using a popular recording in a movie can sometimes cost well over $100,000.
We hope this helps you better understand what is involved with music copyright. By now you can see why having a one stop solution for licensing music saves so much time.