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Synchronization Rights

The use of music in film, TV, video and web cast production involves synchronization rights.   Synchronization rights refer to the right to use a piece of music as soundtrack with visual images.  It is the right to use music in timed relations with other visual elements in a film, video, television show, commercial, or other audio visual production. 

A synchronization license is needed for a song to be reproduced onto a television program, film, video, commercial, radio, or even a phone message.  Synchronization licenses are obtained from the composer, publisher or the music library.  Permission from the record company (master use license) also needs to be obtained if a specific recorded version of a composition is used for a purpose.  Songwriters and publishers do receive synchronization royalties for use of thier song as background music for a movie, TV show, or commercial.

A license for synchronization is put in place to ensure payment to copyright owners when their music is used.  It is important for producers to understand what is involved in obtaining syncronization rights.  At least a few producers incorporate music in their productions without permission, particularly for programs produced for private use or for distribution in the smallest markets.  This practice violates the copyright law and also unnecessarily limits opportunities to exploit the production.

When a musician is hired to compose original music, the producer may own the work outright under a “work-made-for-hire” agreement and will not need to license the synchronizing rights separately.  In such an agreement, the producer may agree to pay the musician or the publisher a flat fee and/or grant a royalty interest in the production.  Usually, the musician or music publisher will insist on retaining ownership of the work partly, or in full, and agree to license only the synchronization rights to the producer for a set fee, a royalty interest, or for an amount based on some other formula.  In such cases, the producer can usually keep the cost of a synchronization license low because the performance license fees for a commissioned work which the producer does not pay can be very lucrative for the musician and/or music publisher.  A synchronization license typically requires the producer to credit the musician not only in the production, but also in connection with advertising and promotional activities, and on home videos.

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