- Licenses of use and rights: What are they and how do they differ?
- Is it possible to get all the rights of a song?
- How to buy or acquire the rights of a song step by step
- The main reason for buying the rights of a song
- Do you really need to get music rights?
- Economic alternatives to get the song’s rights: royalty-free music licenses
- FAQ. Frequently Asked Questions about copyright in music
Are you looking to own the rights of a particular song?
Do you have doubts about the process to do so?
Then you are in the right place.
In this article, we will cover important topics such as:
- The main reason for acquiring the rights of a song.
- How to obtain all the commercial rights.
- The 4 steps to carry out this process.
- Why it is impossible to own all rights of the song
- The economic alternatives to avoid buying the rights.
Don’t worry if you don’t know a term or are wondering about something in particular related to copyright.
Throughout the article, you will find links to our explanatory guides that will complete the content of this article and will help you understand it much better.
In addition, at the bottom of the article, you will also find a section of frequently asked questions so that there are no doubts left unanswered.
Having said that, let’s start by making a distinction that is necessary to understand everything that is to come.
Licenses of use and rights: What are they and how do they differ?
Licensing and copyright are often two terms that are easily confused.
Therefore, before starting with the process of obtaining the copyright of a song, it is useful to explain both terms and to see the difference between them.
On the one hand, usage licenses are documented legal permissions that grant carriers the commercial use of a song under certain pre-agreed circumstances.
- The duration of the license.
- The cost of it.
- What can be done with the song.
- What you can’t do.
Depending on these terms, different types of music licenses are established, but the most common ones are:
- Sync License.
- Master License.
- Public Performance License.
- Mechanical License.
- Print License.
- Theatrical License.
On the other hand, copyright is defined as the rights and rules that protect those rights.
The rights of a personal and patrimonial nature that grant the author the full disposition and exclusive right to exploit his work without any limitations other than those established by law.
And also the set of legal rules and principles that affirm the moral and economic rights that the law grants to authors, by the simple fact of the creation of a literary, artistic, musical, scientific, or didactic work, whether published or unpublished.
Taking into account the first definition, you will understand that the term Copyright gathers several rights that the author of the work has.
- The moral right, which states that it is up to the author alone to decide whether he/she wants his/her work to be disclosed, in what form, whether under his/her own name or a pseudonym, as well as to demand recognition and respect for the integrity of the work and its authorship.
- The patrimonial or exploitation rights are those that allow obtaining an economic return for the use of the work and are divided into multiple rights: reproduction, distribution, public communication, and transformation.
- Other rights, such as simple remuneration rights, including the right to fair compensation for private copying, known as the “digital levy”.
All these rights are defined and protected by the Intellectual Property Law.
Difference between the license of use and rights
Considering what music licenses and copyrights are, we could say that the main difference between the two is authorship.
- Obtaining the license of use will allow you to use that song in your own production, such as in a Youtube video, an advertisement, a movie, a radio commercial, a video game, or an app, for example.
- Obtaining the rights will allow you to get almost all the rights of that work, that is, it will become your property almost completely, as well as almost all the subsequent benefits derived from it.
“And why do you repeat the word ‘almost’?” you may ask.
Well, because there are rights that you will be able to obtain, but there are others that you will not.
Is it possible to get all the rights of a song?
Although it may seem so, the truth is that it is not.
Within copyrights, you have already seen that they are mainly divided into moral rights and economic or exploitation rights.
You will be able to acquire the exploitation rights…
Economic or exploitation rights are transferable.
That is to say, the rights that allow receiving economic compensation for the use of the work can be assigned by the author.
This assignment may occur:
- Mortis causa -by the death of the author- through a testament or a bequest.
- Inter vivos -while the author is still alive- through an assignment of rights contract, publishing contract, or other types of contract.
And this is where the confusion arises regarding music licenses.
If the assignment of the exploitation rights over a musical work is sporadic and occasional, then a license of use of such work is usually issued.
In other words, a music license is nothing more than the temporary assignment of the rights of the song to a work for a certain use.
For example, if you are going to publicly reproduce a song on the radio, you will need a license that allows you to enjoy the exploitation rights of that work, specifically the right of public communication.
However, if what you want is to be an almost exclusive owner of the song, you would have to opt for this assignment contract not to be temporary but to be permanent.
This would make you the owner of the exploitation rights of the work. Now, you will be able to buy these economic rights…
…but you will not be able to acquire the moral rights
One of the key properties of moral rights is that they are non-transferable.
These rights correspond solely to the author of the work and are unwaivable and inalienable, so they cannot be assigned or waived, regardless of whether he or she has signed any contractual clause.
The recognition of moral rights refers to the supposed connection between the author and his work and is manifested in the right of paternity of the work and the right of integrity of the work, both without time limit.
So, summarizing this section, it could be said that no one can have all the copyrights on a song except the author himself.
What can be done is to acquire, temporarily or permanently, the exploitation rights over the song.
How to buy or acquire the rights of a song step by step
At this point, you already know that music licenses are not the same as rights and that what you can acquire are not the full copyrights, but only the economic rights.
Having clarified this, let’s take a look at the steps you need to take to acquire these rights.
1. Determine if the song is copyrighted or in the public domain
First of all, before you buy the rights to a song you should make sure that the song is copyrighted.
If it is a current famous song, it is certainly copyrighted.
However, this is not the case with songs that, although famous, have a certain age.
In fact, according to the current European Copyright Law, a song will become part of the public domain after:
This means that the copyright of the work will have expired and you could use it commercially without any legal problems.
However, to continue with this section, we will follow with the assumption of a copyrighted song.
2. Contact the artist or the owner of the rights
Once we have made sure that our song is copyrighted we can proceed with the contact.
This process will be easier or more complex depending on several factors: if the artist in question or the band is already famous or not, if they have used a record label to record their songs or if they have recorded it themselves, etc.
In the case of little-known indie authors, you may find it easy to contact them, either through their social networks or their personal website, where there is probably a contact form, an email address, or even a phone number.
On the other hand, if they are more recognized authors, this contact is a little more complicated.
The copyright will be distributed among various persons or entities, such as the artist, the owner of the song, the record company, or the PRO’s (Performance Right Organizations), like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.
To do so, you will have to:
- Discover each of the participants in the song.
- Obtain their contact information.
- Contact them by one or more possible ways.
When music was sold in vinyl, cassette, or CD format, the front and back covers featured the details of the creators and the collaborating companies.
Nowadays, where the digital format is the most widespread, you may need to do an exhaustive Google search to find these contact details.
You should also keep in mind that there have been times when the copyright of a song has passed from one hand to another over the years.
So our best recommendation in this step is to be patient, as you may have to use your wits to contact them.
3. Negotiating the price of the rights
Many people tend to ask the following question:
How much do copyrights cost?
And the truth is that they do not have a fixed cost or stipulated by law.
Therefore, once you have contacted the owner of the copyright of the song you will need to start a negotiation.
You may be asked for an extremely high amount upfront, in an attempt to scare you and push you out of the negotiation.
After all, many artists feel attached to their creations as if they were their child, and do not want to let go of them so easily.
Others, however, will consider your interest as a recognition of their work and will have no problem receiving affordable royalties.
Two factors are very important here:
- Your negotiating skills (or those of the person who will be in charge of it).
- The approximate estimation of the future ROI.
To make the estimate you can research what artists usually charge in royalties, as well as the number of current and past sales of the song.
This will help you to make an informed and professional offer, and you will know in what range you can negotiate to make it profitable.
However, good negotiating skills will be more effective than any estimate.
And if you do not have them, we recommend that you delegate the negotiation to a professional.
Finally, if the rights are spread among several people or entities, you will need to negotiate with each of these parties separately.
Otherwise, you will only have a part of the exploitation rights, and this will prevent you from receiving all the benefits associated with these rights.
4. Sign the transfer of rights
If the negotiation ends satisfactorily for both parties and a verbal agreement has been reached, it will be time to formalize it.
Before making the payment it is extremely important that you hire a good lawyer if possible one who knows the music industry and is specialized in this type of sale and purchase.
He will be in charge of:
- Review all contract clauses.
- Ensure that the negotiated terms are included in the contract.
- Check that all possible future scenarios are included.
- Verify that the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the process are listed.
Once the lawyer approves the transaction, payment can be made and the signature can proceed.
The main reason for buying the rights of a song
Now that you know the process of obtaining the rights to a song, as well as the very high cost that is usually associated with it, you may be wondering the following:
What are the reasons for wanting to buy the copyright to a famous song?
The truth is that everyone may have a different reason for wanting to do so, but the most common is that it serves as an investment.
When someone dedicates large amounts of money to obtain the rights to something, whether it is music or not, it is usually to exploit it economically.
In the case of the copyright of a song it can be to obtain benefits through:
- Its reproduction in television, radio, cinema, theaters, and parties.
- Its transformation into different formats, whether physical or digital.
- Its distribution through new media channels.
Or, there is also the possibility that the investor thinks that the song might be a megahit in the future and is looking for a revaluation and subsequent sale of the rights.
Do you really need to get music rights?
Because of the confusion that all this raises, many people don’t really need to buy the copyright to a song. They don’t even need to license their favorite songs.
If at this point of the article you feel that you are among this group of people, we want you to know that you have much faster, intuitive, and economical alternatives to get music.
Economic alternatives to get the song’s rights: royalty-free music licenses
As we were saying, it is not necessary to obtain the copyright of a specific song to play background music, either in business or in productions.
For this purpose, there are already royalty-free music platforms: online services that provide you with affordable and legal stock music.
In LegisMusic we have tested almost all of them, but the best in our opinion are the following:
- Epidemic Sound
- Envato Elements
- Soundtrack Your Brand
You can find out more about each of them in our music licensing section.
This way you will know if you need this type of platform, what each one can do for you, and which one best meets your needs.
Obtaining the copyright of a particular song is usually a rather cumbersome, but feasible, process.
It is true that, in the case of a famous song, the procedure can take a long time and the cost of the operation could be very high.
But by the same token, if you are dealing with lesser-known authors whose works have not yet made the big leap, the process can not only be greatly shortened, but it will be more economical.
It is all a matter of being clear about your reasons for obtaining the rights, having the funds to get them, being patient, and following the steps mentioned above.
In any case, what is clear to you at this point is that copyrights are not the same as music licenses. Maybe you came to this article looking for how to use a famous song on a specific occasion, in which case you won’t need to get the rights, but to acquire a specific license.
Something much faster to get, and cheaper at the same time.
Or maybe you have realized the following:
You wanted to simply add background music to your business or your productions in a legal way and you thought the only option was to buy the rights.
In that case, you now know it’s not necessary.
Now you have a number of alternatives: royalty-free music platforms that will save you a lot of work, time, and money.
We hope this article has helped you to better understand the whole process of obtaining royalties.
However, if you have any unanswered questions, we recommend you to take a look at the following FAQ section and read our article on “how to see if a song is copyrighted“.
FAQ. Frequently Asked Questions about copyright in music
- How much does it cost to acquire the rights of a song and how much will I have to pay in royalties?
The truth is that there are no fixed or estimated price tables.
The price will depend on what each author or record label considers the commercial exploitation of the song to be worth.
There are many who could cede their exploitation almost for free, while there are others who could claim figures with up to 6 and 7 digits, and same happens with royalties.
To be sure, it is best to ask the author, representative or record label directly.
- What is the Intellectual Property Law?
Intellectual Property Law is a branch of property law whose purpose is to promote the advancement of ideas, protect any original creation, and provide its authors with a series of rights to safeguard their creation.
Within the Intellectual Property Law, there are four main branches with their own particularities: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and industrial secrets.
- What works are protected by copyright?
By definition, copyrighted works are original creations expressed by any means or medium, tangible or intangible, now existing or to be invented in the future, among which are the following:
- Literary works: Books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, brochures, writings, lectures, speeches, and any other work of the same nature.
- Plastic works: sculpture, drawing, painting, comics, etc.
- Scientific works: Plans, graphs, and designs related to geography, topography, and science.
- Musical works: Musical compositions, as well as sheet music, with or without lyrics.
- Audiovisual works: Films, television programs, theater plays, etc. In short, any audiovisual production.
- Photographic works: images and forms of expression through a procedure similar to photography.
- Computer software or mobile devices, web pages, etc.
The duration of exploitation rights may vary from country to country, but in the United States these rights expire after:
- 70 years after the author’s death, or
- 120 years after the creation of the song, or
- 95 years after the publication of the song
Whichever is shorter.
Once this date has passed, the work becomes part of the public domain and may be used without authorization.
However, its authority and integrity must always be respected.
At the same time, new versions of a song can be created under the public domain, in which case, the exploitation rights of the new publisher will last for 25 years.
- What are the rights that are under the moral rights of a work?
The right of paternity and the right of integrity of the work.
- What are the moral rights under the Intellectual Property Law?
The coverages of this law may vary from time to time, however, they are usually as follows:
- The decision as to whether your work should be disclosed or not.
- If you decide to disclose it, you have the power to decide: in what for and if it is done under his name, under a pseudonym, or anonymously.
- He may demand the acknowledgment of his authorship of the work -what is called the paternity of the work-.
- He may prevent any modification or alteration of the original work, as long as it is detrimental to his interests or reputation, claiming respect for it -which is called the integrity of the work-.
- It will have the power to vary the original work as long as the rights previously acquired with third parties are respected, as well as the claim for the protection of cultural property.
- If he wishes, he may withdraw the work from the market, subject to compensation to the holders of the exploitation rights (if any).
- What are patrimonial rights within copyright?
Economic rights are rights that have an economic and transferable character.
The author has the power to authorize or prohibit the commercial use of his work, so, as we have seen throughout the article, we will have to negotiate with the parties involved in the acquisition of these rights.
Among the economic rights we can distinguish two types of rights: Those of exploitation and those of simple remuneration.
- What are exploitation rights?
Usually confused with patrimonial rights, exploitation rights entitle the author to decide on the use of his work, which may not be carried out without his authorization.
- What are the exploitation rights under the Intellectual Property Law?
According to the Intellectual Property Law, exploitation rights include the following:
- Right of reproduction, which grants the ability to produce or authorize the production of copies of a protected work, by any means and in any other medium.
- Right of adaptation or transformation, which facilitates the so-called derivative works, among which you could find, for example, musical arrangements.
- Right of publication, which authorizes the disclosure of the work by any means.
- Distribution right, which authorizes the delivery of the work to the public for the first time, either through a sale or other forms of distribution.
- Right of communication, interpretation and public performance, which allows any action through which access to a work is given. This would include, among others, the performance of a musical work in a concert, the transmission of a song in a media or the projection of an audiovisual piece containing such work.
- What are simple remuneration rights?
Remuneration rights, unlike exclusive rights, do not entitle the holder to authorise or prohibit acts of exploitation of his work or protected subject-matter by the user, although they do oblige the user to pay a monetary amount for the acts of exploitation he carries out, an amount that is determined either by law or, failing that, by the collecting societies’ general tariffs.
These rights are two in particular:
- Resale right in resale of plastic originals.
- The right to remuneration or compensation for private copying.
- What is private copying levies?
Compensation for private copying is what is colloquially known as the digital levy.
What this levy establishes is an obligation to pay a previously fixed lump sum whenever we buy a digital device capable of reproducing works subject to copyright.
For example, when we copy to our mobile phone an mp3 song that we have previously purchased, this is detrimental to the copyright holders of that song, who no longer receive any remuneration for the private copy that we have just made.
To avoid this, this digital levy is established on any device capable of playing or storing songs, books, videos and other goods protected by copyright.
- What is the amount of compensation for private copying?
According to current legislation, the following compensation has to be applied depending on the type of device:
|Multifunction inkjet or laser printers||5,25 €|
|Printers, copiers and scanners capable of making up to 39 copies per minute||4,50 €|
|Dedicated or mixed CD recorders||0,33 €|
|Dedicated or mixed versatile disc recorders, or compact and versatile disc recorders||1,86 €|
|Non-recordable compact discs||0,08 €|
|Rewritable compact discs||0,10 €|
|Versatile non-rewritable discs||0,21 €|
|Versatile rewritable discs||0,28 €|
|USB sticks and other memory cards not embedded in other devices||0,24 €|
|Non-integrated hard disks that support the playback of video, text, audio or other audio, visual or audio-visual content||6,45 €|
|Discs integrated in equipment, allowing the reproduction of video, text, audio or other audio, visual or audiovisual content, excluding discs integrated in video game consoles which do not allow reproductions covered by the private copying limit, and decoders for digital TV signals||5,45 €|
|Portable devices that allow the playback of video, text, audio or other audio, visual or audio-visual content in compressed format, and portable electronic devices with touch screen (e.g. tablets)||3,15 €|
|Mobile phones with video, text, audio or other audio, visual or audio-visual content playback functionality||1,10 €|
These amounts are implicit in the final price of each product, so each person would already be paying the author as private copying compensation.
- What is an assignment of rights contract?
A contract of rights assignment is a contract in which one party assigns any rights it may have to something, either a right in itself or a material item, to another person.
- What is a publishing contract in the music industry?
The musical work publishing contract is the agreement between the author and the publisher by which the former undertakes to deliver a work to the publisher, who is obliged to pay the author an economic consideration -the royalty-.
In exchange, the publisher may reproduce, distribute and sell the work at will.