September 20, 2013

The Benefits of Royalty Free Production Music: Can it Save You From Legal Troubles?

By Mike Fuller.

Royalty Free Production Music in addition to cost effectiveness can be one way to avoid legal problems.  The key is proper licensing.  Licensors ideally should warrant that they own or control the copyright in a musical composition and/or sound recording.  One problem today is the prevalence of re-titling and re-publishing music. On the surface this is legal when all the proper documents are signed by legitimate parties but in today’s world of music sound recording fingerprints and music recognition issues of copyright often occur despite perfectly legal licensing and sub-licensing.

Many libraries today are made up of almost totally re-titled tunes.  A composer or publisher can submit his or her material to a large number of libraries.  The question becomes, “Who is the real copyright holder?” It’s no wonder that many music supervisors are not licensing re-titled music.  It’s just too risky.

Those who think they can use any piece of royalty free music they may stumble upon, assuming the owner will never catch on, are sadly mistaken.  Music recognition is here to stay.  At CSS, we use TuneSat (NYC) to monitor our performances.  In addition to broadcasts around the world, they also monitor the worldwide web. Fingerprinting is very accurate and strong evidence of infringement when it occurs.  Quite frankly, with music as inexpensive as it is, cheating just doesn’t pay.  Corollary to this is the fact that often even when music is properly licensed, cue sheets are not filled out or even submitted to BMI, ASCAP, SOCAN, etc. as required in the license.  Again, musical fingerprints like their human counterparts, don’t lie.

When cue sheets are not submitted, song writers and publishers don’t get their fair payment for public performance as provided for in the copyright act.  Pure and simple though, using music without written permission is probably illegal, not ethical and a risky business proposition.  Just remember that’s why CSS Music and our competitors are in business.  We sell peace of mind at a very affordable price.   You may think you’re buying music but in reality you’re buying the license.  Make sure you get it in writing and that it conveys the terms and conditions you need for the projects you will be working on.  Make sure also that if you buy a needle drop license, you know that it’s not a lifetime blanket and that it’s good for one use and one project only.

Another good way to avoid legal problems is the custom score.  Aside from quality, make sure the composer warrants among other things that his work is original and does not infringe on the rights of any third party and of course spells out which rights are actually being conveyed to you and which rights if any are being retained by the composer.  So called “Napkin” Licenses or deal memos written on the back of an envelope are not recommended.

Another way to possibly avoid legal problems is the use of music in the public domain.  This sounds good but has many problems associated with it.  Make sure PD music is PD worldwide not just in the US.  Each territory has different laws about what is or is not in the PD.  Always best to pay the fee and check with a copyright clearance house.  We recommend BZ Rights and Permissions in NYC.
Have you run into legal troubles with production music that was not royalty free? Share some of your horror stories.