What’s A Synch License?

Anytime music is “synchronized” in timed relation with visual images, a synchronization license is needed (often called a synch license, for short).  Synch uses may include film, television, DVD, home video, websites, multi-media presentations and the like, and may also extend to some types of live performance uses.  If music is being synchronized with visual images in any way, then the producer of the audio-visual project must first obtain the proper approval (license) to do so from the copyright holder of the composition, and also from the copyright holder of any master recording that is being used.

Music may be synchronized with visuals in a number of ways, and synch license fees can vary  significantly, depending on the type and length of use, popularity of the song, and other variables.  Therefore, to obtain a sync license, the user will generally be required to provide a great deal of detailed information before a license will be considered by the copyright holder or his/her licensing agent.  All approvals and licenses fees are subject to negotiation.   The copyright holder may deny permission for any reason and may charge whatever fee he/she chooses, based on his/her subjective assessment of the use.

Some of the details a copyright holder may require  include:

  • Type of Use:  Is the use an on-screen performance?  A background vocal?  An instrumental use?  etc.
  • Length of Use: How many minutes or seconds will the song play?  How many times?
  • Theme:  Is the song used as a recurring theme?
  • Context: What is the context in which it is used?  Does the use shed a positive light on the song?  How important is this specific song or lyric to the over-all script/project or the specific scene?  Does the specific context or entire product promote alcohol, tobacco, firearms, political candidates, pornography, etc.?   What is the film rating?
  • Actors/Directors:  Who is in the visual?  Does it include the artist that made this song popular?  Are there known actors/directors/producers involved and how does that affect the song’s exposure and future opportunities (positively or negatively).
  • Budget:   What is the project budget?  How much of the budget is being used for music?  How many total songs are being used in the project?  What music licenses have already been  acquired by the producer and what is he paying per song?  Will he agree to a “Most Favored Nations” clause in the license?  etc.
  • Territory:  World-wide?  US only?  etc.
  • Term of Use:  Is the user requesting 3 years, 5 years?  Unlimited?  What term is the copyright holder willing to grant?
  • Other:  The copyright holder may also ask about (or possibly limit) use in promotional trailers, re-runs, spin-off products and a number of other things.

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