Music Licensing for Video

When to get permission

If you release Blue-ray discs, DVDs, or digital video of any kind (such as a YouTube video), make sure to get permission for any songs you did not write, recordings made by other people (such as samples, karaoke tracks, or background tracks), and reprinted lyrics or music notes if you show them. Licenses should be secured before you release your video. Because of the complexity of these types of licenses, we suggest making your request many months ahead of your release, and also having a backup plan in case your request is denied. Reputable manufacturers require proof of licensing before they replicate your video; reputable web sites will remove videos with unlicensed copyrighted material. You do not need to license songs that you wrote yourself or songs that you know are in the public domain.

In most cases you don't need a custom license for cover songs. Learn about the exceptions below.

What about YouTube?

By law, licensing must be in place for all of the above scenarios, even on YouTube. Unfortunately, conflicting information about who handles licensing on YouTube has led to widespread copyright infringement on the service. Some consumers believe YouTube handles licensing for them; this is only partially true. YouTube pays royalties to some publishers that have agreed to a share of ad revenue in exchange for music rights. However, most publishers have not agreed to this, and instead follow the more traditional practice of requiring the individual to obtain synchronization licensing before posting. The best way to know for sure if a publisher has a deal with YouTube is to check with the copyright holder directly. Unsure if you need a license? We provide answers through our Custom Licensing services.

How to get permission

It is important to note that underlying what most people think of as a “song” is actually two components: the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song, created by the composers) and the original recorded audio (recording of musicians playing the song, created by the artists). Often the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. These song components can be owned separately by different entities. For this reason, there are two types of licenses to protect the two types of creations: 1) a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video) for the composer to protect the composition, and 2) a master license for the recording artist to protect the original recording. It’s important to understand both components, and both types of licenses when obtaining permission for a “song”:

1) Composition
(mechanical or synchronization rights)

The composition is the music notes and lyrics that define a song. The rights to the composition are usually owned by the composer or their publisher. Permission is obtained through a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video).

2) Recording
(master rights)

The recording is a recorded performance of the composition (song). The rights to the recording are usually owned by the artist or their record label. Permission is obtained through a master license.

The licenses required for video (synchronization, master, and print licenses) are custom-negotiated upfront with the copyright holder and are quite complex. For these types of licenses, check out our Custom Licensing services or contact us. Alternatively, you can attempt to locate the copyright owners yourself and request permission.

How the royalties are paid

For video, royalties are paid upfront to the copyright holder based on a custom-negotiated fee. When you hire us, we deliver your request to the copyright holder, negotiate the fee, and present it to you. If you accept, we collect the entire fee from you (which includes the royalties), and then send 100% of the royalties on to the copyright holder. If you need to reorder, a new license is negotiated. You have the option to follow all these steps yourself or hire us for assistance through our Custom Licensing services.

Challenges of licensing for video

All of the types of music licenses for video require custom negotiations with the copyright holder. Music licensing for video can be challenging because, by law, the copyright holders maintain total control of their works. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. For this reason, it is important to temper expectations when licensing for video. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department.

Relevant music licenses you might need


CDs / Audio-only products

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New arrangements

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Digital downloads

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Sampling / Existing audio

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Theater / Stage

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Public performance

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About CopyrightNotary.com

Copyright Notary helps indie artists, corporations, churches, schools, community groups, and individuals get permission to use copyrighted music for all types of uses. Its Cover Song Licensing service makes it easy to get 100% of the permission required to release a new version of any song in 1-2 business days. Through its Custom Licensing services, Copyright Notary offers music rights clearances for any use, with dedicated, personal assistance from an experienced specialist. Committed to accuracy and transparency, Copyright Notary adds value to the music industry through innovation, education, and efficient rights administration.

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