Synchronization Rights for Music

Decoding a tricky use of the licensing of songs

Rights licenses for prerecorded music in an audiovisual work might include synchronization, mechanical, master-use and performing rights.

Unlike other copyrighted materials, sync licenses must be negotiated on an individual basis between the copyright owner and the producer.

While sync licenses typically are secured by the production company, they tend to restrict usage to one or two times.

Since the early 1990s the music industry has looked to the meetings industry as a source of revenue by licensing the public performance of music.

What many planners don't realize is that beyond the general agreement with one of the three performing-rights organizations -- the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Business Music Incorporated (BMI) or SESAC -- you'll need another license if the music will support a video, a movie or any other visual platform. For these, you need a synchronization, or sync, license.

The Basics The creator of a copyrighted property owns a "bundle of rights," which encompasses every way it can be used by another. The incorporation of music into a video or audio format shown or played during a gathering requires both a public performance license as well as a sync license.

While performing-rights licenses come from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, sync rights are more complicated.

A sync license permits the use of music in relationship with a visual element only to the extent the license allows. The right to use a song as part of a soundtrack requires a sync license from the publisher or composer, or from the commercial music library that authorizes such rights.

Bottom Line Synchronization rights can fetch big money or small, depending upon the usage and the license contract. For most meeting professionals, obtaining sync rights can be the responsibility of the production company, but remember, only the event host can obtain the public performance license.

Note that sometimes sync licenses are limited to a one- or two-time performance. Also, they might restrict the sale or other distribution of the materials. Thus, when you seek a sync license through a production company, be sure you know the extent you can use the music and media. Music used in a farewell video where a CD is distributed to participants might cost less than if the music is going to be put up on a website.

Be sure your production company contract includes an indemnification provision to guard against any copyright infringement allegations.

Original Works If an artist is hired to compose original music, the producer might own the work outright under a work-for-hire agreement and copyright license agreement, so no sync license would be required. If your organization paid for the work, be sure the contract clearly states who owns the rights if you want to keep them.

In any case, when you hire the talent, the agreements must contain specific language to be enforceable. Better is to include a blanket license and assignment of copyright to you, which allows you to have unfettered use of the new works.

For much more detail on this complex topic, view M&C's free webcast, "Music Licensing: What Event Planners Must Know," recently presented by myself and entertainment specialist Mark Sonder, CSEP, of Mark Sonder Productions Inc. To register, go to