Commercial music licensing basics
Today’s post is from our SafeSourcing Archives
There isn’t an organization on earth that doesn’t use music for its business in some capacity. Offices without any background music are awkward, phone lines without hold music makes customers think no one is actually holding for them, and video marketing is incomplete without song. Even though you may feel that the latest hit would be a perfect fit for your multimedia needs, without following the right procedures you could be on the hook for damages much larger than the actual licensing fees. But where do you start?
The rights to any musical composition’s distribution are typically managed by the publishing company under what are known as “mechanical licenses”. Sometimes the rights can be released directly by the copyright holder, but typically only under special circumstances such as when the request comes from a source with strong cross-promotional influence, or a friend of the artist themselves. The major Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. All commercial artists will be affiliated with one or the other organization. However, obtaining a license to use the music of one organization does not give you legal access to the libraries of all three PROs. There are, however, several third party companies who have licensing agreements with the PROs, and will grant access to specific works within their libraries for a fee. If you need to be able to customize how you use the creative work, such as by editing a song to fit within a TV commercial or radio jingle, obtaining licensing through a third party is usually the easiest way to go. However, if all you need is elevator music, obtaining licenses specific to your organization is probably unnecessary.
Typically, the best route for a company to take is to purchase systems with pre-existing music libraries already integrated. For example, many VOIP providers either have their own content created exclusively for their organization, or have purchased rights to creative works themselves. This places the burden of working through the licensing issues on the service provider you are using. However, if you want to make sure your service provider is compliant, you should ask for documentation proving compliance with current copyright laws identifying the corresponding PRO.
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