Music synchronization license
A music synchronization license, or "sync" for short, is a license granted by the holder of the copyright of a particular composition allowing the licensee to "sync" music with some kind of visual media output (film, television shows, advertisements, video games, accompanying website music, movie trailers, etc.).
The rights to a composition or the "song", which is different from the studio sound recording, are most often administered by the publishing company that represents the writer/producer. The value in the copyright of a recording is divided into two pieces:
- the "master" sound recording, which is the actual studio recording of the song and most often owned by the record label, and,
- the composition, which is the underlying lyrics and melody written by the songwriter and administered by the music publisher.
Sync negotiations / fees
When an audio/visual project producer wants to use a recording in their work, they must contact both the owner of the sound recording (record label), and the owner of the composition (songwriter via publishing company). In many cases, producers with tight budgets will elect to use a cover version of a particular song in order to save money on the master side (and avoid dealing with prickly major labels). Once the producer has made an inquiry with the copyright administrator (and additionally the record label if they choose to use a famous recording), the rights holder/administrator issues a quote, usually for a one-time fee. This can initiate negotiations, whose points of interest usually include things like how the work is being used, the length of the segment, the prominence of the cue (is it background music, or used as the title track during the credits), and the overall popularity and importance of the song/recording. Sync licensing fees can range anywhere from free, to a few hundred dollars, to tens of thousands of dollars for popular recordings of songs (in the last case the producer must pay for both the use of the master and the composition).
- Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Publishing, 512 F.3d 522 (9th Cir. 2008).
- Newton v. Diamond, 388 F.3d 1189, 1191 (9th Cir. 2004).