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Licensing and Permission: Music Licensing

Licensing Print Music vs. Licensing Recordings

Music exists in multiple expressions including printed notation and lyrics, sound recordings, and staged performances. Each expression has copyright protections. The rights are usually controlled by separate individuals, rights organizations, or publishers. How you use a musical work and its expression will determine which license(s) you may need.

Different Types of Music Licenses

Royalties are the payments to the rights holder. There are two kinds of music royalties:

  • Performance royalties for each time a work is performed or broadcast
  • Mechanical royalties for the manufacture and distribution of recordings

When licensing music, you may need one or more of the following:

  • For rights to the written music for performances, contact the publisher for Use Rights.
  • For dramatic performances of the written music such as opera, ballet, and theater with live music, contact the publisher for Grand or Dramatic Rights.
  • To use a sound recording of a particular music performance, contact the record label for a Master Use license.
  • To use a sound recording for dramatic performances such as film, dance, or video, contact the publisher for a Synchronization license.
  • For the right to record and distribute sound recordings of a copyrighted work, contact Harry Fox Agency for a Mechanical license.

Finding Music Rights Holders

Performance rights organizations (PROs) negotiate licensing and royalties between rights holders (such as musicians, composers, and publishers) and users of copyrighted works.

  • PROs monitor performances of music on radio and television, in nightclubs, and on internet sites.
  • They collect license fees from business entities that use the music registered with them and distribute royalties to composers, songwriters, and music publishers.
  • In order to collect performance royalties, music publishers must register with only one performance rights organization.

SMU has blanket licensing agreements with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, which gives permission to perform any work in these three catalogs by current SMU students, faculty, and staff if done so on SMU's premises. Each has an online database for searching musical works covered in the catalogs.

Sound Recording Licensing

To use a specific music recording for a video, film, or staged production, you need a master use license.

  • Contact the record label.
  • Many smaller labels are part of mega-labels such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group. Each has an online form for requesting licensing.
  • For independent labels, check the label's website for links to "licensing" or "permissions" or use the contact information to make a licensing inquiry.

Resources for Requesting Licensing

To create your own recording of a copyrighted musical work (i.e. a cover), you need a mechanical license. Harry Fox Agency manages licensing and royalties for mechanical licenses.

Royalty Free Sound Recordings

Royalty-free licensing allows you to use copyrighted content on an ongoing basis. Users pay by subscription or per use. Royalty-free sites are great resources for users needing background music for stage productions or for online content.