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Copyright advice

This page is intended to help you if you're looking for advice on music copyright and the law, including using royalty free music.

At Royalty-free.TV we supply royalty free music to people who generally end up using it within the broadcasting industry, such as TV, radio and corporate video production companies. However we also supply to people who use royalty free music on the internet, on DVDs, within software, and probably a hundred other ways! We get a lot of questions asked us by these people, and the information we give here is generally geared toward them and the questions they ask, so if you use music in any of these ways, this page will give you invaluable advice. However if you ever copy someone elses music in any form (mp3, midi, CD or even written down), you should read this page too, and learn what all the fuss can be about..!

Here's where we are coming from - we are based in the UK, and sell licenses for our royalty free music (and other music) around the world, particularly to the USA, and so most of our advice is geared around these two main countries - America and United Kingdom. However, there are many general principals that apply throughout the world, and our links page (page at site map) guides you to the organisations around the world who can give you further advice if you need it, so if you're from anywhere in the world, you'll still find this page useful.

Here are some of the questions and topics we get asked about...

How do I use some music in my TV programme/corporate video/radio commercial/website etc
You've chosen the music you want (royalty free music or any other music), and you want to stay legal. There's an important point to consider - although composers may often be poor, but they belong to big organisations who have big lawyers! So here's what you need to know. Let's assume the music is protected by copyright - we'll get to why later on. When you include a piece of music in a TV/video/film production you need a Synchronization license - so called because the music is synchronized to visuals. With radio, it's a Transcription licence. Broadly they're known as "Mechanical Licenses" (from the days when they were actual mechanically made copies), and however you copy the music you're going to need one. And I do mean "however" - whatever the format, it's still valid, so it includes computer files (mp3, midi), tapes, CDs, DVDs, vinyl, paper and comb...(well, almost).

Is all music protected by copyright?
The broad answer to this is 'yes' - for all practical purposes. If you've come across the music (let's assume you didn't write it yourself) then the music creator has certain rights - Copyright. In the US they have to invoke these rights, but if they've gone to the trouble of releasing the music (and that's where you heard it, right?) they will have done this. In the UK, the right exists automatically. The creator may well have apponted a publishing company to look after the Copyright on their behalf, or they may do it themselves. Either way, it's there.

So what's the big deal about that?
Nothing really, except that the person who controls the Copyright gets to say how the music is used. So if you want to use it in your corporate DVD, they have to give the 'OK'. In practise, this would be an administrative nightmare - imagine how many composers there are out there, and how would you start trying to find the right one?? So here's how it's made easy - each country has a main agency to admistrate the"music copyright" rights for everyone. In the UK it's called MCPS (the Mechanical and Copyright Protection Society), in the USA it's the Harry Fox Agency. You contact them, and they can give you the permission you need to stay the right side of the law - for a fee.

And that's so called "royalty free music" or "buy out" music. What happens here is that the composers have kept the Copyright rights themselves, so they don't use an agency to adminstrate those rights for them. This means that they'll give you a license individually to use their royalty free music, for a fee of course. It's often cheaper, as well as simpler, and we think it's a great way to license music, but then we're probably biased...visit www.royalty-free.tv

So what do MCPS and Harry Fox want from me?
It generally comes down to a bit of form-filling, and you pay a set rate for the permission.

It's going to cost me - right?
That's for sure, but the rates vary enormously depending on the use that you want to put the music too. Generally it's geared in proportion with how many people end up hearing the music in the end. So a network broadcast at peak time to millions of people (say a TV drama), the rate is going to be high. On the other hand, if you're making a corporate presentation that'll only ever be seen inside the company, the rate is a lot lower!

So now you've paid the "Mechanicals" license, you think you're in the clear. Not quite - it depends on what you do with the music next, so read this bit carefully! There is also a right included in Copyright that's referred to as the "Performance Right". Without going into the exact technicalities, this means that the composer has the exclusive right to decide how their music is "performed" publicly. You guessed it - you have to pay them for that permission too! But read on - you may not have to either! There are a few terms you should understand here to make it clearer...

What's a Performance?
A "performance" can be thought of as whenever the music is played publicly - this means to anyone other than yourself. It includes, for example, radio, TV, nightclubs, trade shows, telephone on-hold, in-store music systems.

So who pays who?
As with the Mechanicals licenses, the admin if you had to track down each individual composer would be a nightmare, so to solve this problem we have Performing Rights Organisations (PRO), who represent most music composers. In America the biggest societies are ASCAP and BMI, in the UK it's the PRS (see our links page for more societies). The person or company who actually does the broadcast pays them a fee for the privelege of broadcasting (or "performing") music in public. This can be good news - because if you are a TV production company for example, you don't pay. Why not? Because you don't actually do the broadcast, the TV station does, so they pay! No matter what music they play, they still have to pay a fee. The rate they pay is again scaled sensibly according to how many people hear the music, and generally the TV & Radio stations pay one big fee to cover all their music for a year at a time (it's often referred to as a "blanket" license, as it covers all their music used). However, they still need to know exactly what music they are broadcasting, so when you (as a TV programme maker for example) give the TV station the final tapes, you also give them "cue sheets" with exact details of the music/composers used in the programme. These details get passed on to the local Perfomance Rights Organisation, who use this to calculate how much money each composer should get, according to how much of each composer's music has been "performed" in public. So they (PRO's) do a good thing - they do all the administartion so you don't have to!

When do I pay a Perfomance Licence fee?
If you make a public performance by playing the music to the public. For example, let's say you make a corporate video for your client, who then shows that video at a trade fair. That's actually a public performance, and the client will be expected to pay a fee for the right to do this, usually to the trade fair organiser, who's already been charged a fee by the local Performance Rights Society such as ASCAP. So it pays to think through to the final use of the music - if you write a midi file version of a hit song and put it on your website, no matter how insignificant that may seem so some people, technically you're due to pay your local Performance Rights Organisation for the right to do that. And remember, big PRO societies have big lawyers (who have kids with big college fees), and they're gonna be chasing you for some of that...

We hope that's explained the necessary facts to those who want to know. Generally, just approach the right people in the right way, and you'll have no problems at all. It's only if you ignore them in the hope that 'no-one will ever notice' that you're likely to regret it. And in our experience, composers, agencies etc are usually very reasonable people, and business minded. If you're making money out of their talents, it's only reasonable that they get their fair share (and no more!). On the other hand if you're making no money, they're just as likely to charge you nothing, turn a blind eye, and tell you not to worry. But at least you've extended them the courtesy of asking, and thereby shown that you recognise the value in their music - which is what Copyright is all about.

Click here to start searching our royalty free music - copyright cleared

As mentioned above, the advice given here is not meant to be all-encompassing, and although useful it may not address your specific circumstances. For further information about the law in your country, you can do worse than visit our links/resources page at the site map at and follow the link to the society for your country, who should be able to advise you further. They often have leaflets etc they're happy to send to those who ask. Also, our appreciation and heartfelt recommendation goes to a fantastic book "All You Need To Know About The Music Business" by Donald S. Passman., without which we'd have made some (more) really bad deals and decisions along the way - it's saved us a fortune, and paid for itself many times over. In case you're wondering, we've nothing to do with the book and nothing to gain financially by recommending it - the Los Angeles Times called this book "the industry bible" so call them if you've any doubts. Even better, buy the book (try Amazon.com).

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