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LET’S MAKE IT CLEAR…MUSIC LICENSING TUTORIAL FOR FILMMAKERS AND VIDEOGRAPHERS (part 2) – From who, which rights do you need to obtain?

A post by Eastaste Eastaste on June 9, 2016


In our previous tutorial, you could learn about the situations in which you need to license music, and what are the exceptions.

In this blogpost you can discover, from who, and exactly which rights do you need to obtain.


The anatomy of a song


Let’s start with the fact, that apropos of a song, we distinguish 2 types of rights.

1.) Publishing Rights


A song has songwriters and can have lyricists. Songwriter is the person, who writes the melodies for songs (it’s the one you can whistle), we can also call him composer. Lyricist is a musician, who specializes in writing lyrics.

Both type of authors create intellectual property with this type of activity, whereby they earn ownership in the given song.

The authors can verify this ownership by reporting the proportion of their authorship to their local copyright collection society.

A song can have practically any number of songwriter and lyricist, the problem is that if you want to use a song legally in a film, you need to obtain everyone’s approval.

The authors are often represented by a music publisher company. They usually represent the authors exclusively so you have to agree on the amount of royalties through them. At best, all the authors of a song are represented by the same music publisher, but it isn’t necessary.

2.) Master Rights (a.k.a. Recording Rights)


The finished song and lyrics will be recorded, resulting in a sound recording, which embodies the Master Rights.

The master rights can be owned by a record label, the band, one person from the band, or a company, where the band members are the owners, etc.

At this point, it is important to note, that from a given composition and the accompanying lyrics,  infinite amount of recording can be made, that can have infinite amount of owners.

This is most clearly seen in the classical compositions. For example, countless amounts of audio recordings exist from Beethoven’s 9th symphony, but there are also numerous adaptations of George Gershwin’s song, Summertime.




These new recordings commonly have quite different owners, but the good news is, that unlike publishing rights, a master recording usually has only one owner.

(Performers might also hold a separate right depending on their agreement with the owner of the sound recording. They usually don’t hold separate rights in a song, therefore it is common, that performers of famous songs, like I will always love you from Whitney Houston struggle with financial problems all their lives, because are cut out from a big chunk of royalty revenue.)

Therefore if you would like to use the original version of a song in a film (or advertisement, but also in a theater play!) you have to ask permission from the owners of both sides – the authors and the owners of the sound recording.

If you are lucky, the two sides are in one hand. Either because the music was self-released and the band/performer is the owner of master recording and publishing rights, or because the record label also represents the publishing rights (it is common in the 360 deals).

If the two sides don’t have the same owner, both must be negotiated and agreed upon separately. There are two ways: the two sides set their prices independently from each other, the other is when the parties stipulate, that neither side may receive less than the other.

Mainly because of the second option, it can happen, that the user doesn’t have enough money to pay both sides or simpy out of creative reasons wants another version of the song. In this case, it is possible to buy only the publishing rights, and create a new sound recording. To do so, it is usually required to get a permission from the authors, who either agree to it or not.


“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John, performed by the cast of Almost Famous



The scenarios outlined above compose the legal base of music licensing. However in many cases, life can create totally absurd situations for the filmmakers.

The first major task is to identify and find all the rights owners from both sides. This can be difficult with the older songs, because it is possible that for some reasons, 30-40 years ago, they registered girlfriends, fans, spouses, creditors etc. as an author to provide extra revenue for them.

Sometimes neither the band itself remembers who these people are, and it can be almost impossible to find them.

If an author died, you have to ask permission from it’s successors, who may be their children, wife, grandchildren etc. of the deceased author, which makes the already high number of right owners even higher.

It happens, that the author has a legal dispute with the music publisher, and because of this the song becomes “on hold” and cannot be licensed.

It is also possible that the author is labelled insane and has a legal guardian. In this case the decision can be made only by the guardian, but this guardian perhaps wants to be included in the film, otherwise he wouldn’t agree to the usage of the song…


The list of such outrageous situations goes on and on, but at this point it’s probably obvious, that licensing is not a straight forward procedure.

That’s why you might want to hire specialists, like music supervisors for the job, or choose from catalogues, which has already pre-cleared songs. (hey, our songs are exactly like that, check them here :D)


In the next tutorial we will write about how to calculate the licensing fee of a song. If you missed our previous post, where you could learn details about the situations in which you need to license music, and what are the exceptions, you can read here.


If you are interested in more information, please subscribe to our newsletter, and if you are searching for music for a project, check out our catalogue, which contains brand new pre-cleared music from Eastern Europe, but we also collected some of our favourite tracks, all of them can be licensed! :)


Staff picks
Magic Of The Moment by The Maneken
Magic Of The MomentThe ManekenUkraine3:42
LEGO by Gayana
Island of Promise feat Hegyi Dori by Belau
Island of Promise feat Hegyi DoriBelauHungary3:23
TIME by Onuka
Country not setno length
Before The Eyes Are Opened by Tenfold Rabbit
Before The Eyes Are OpenedTenfold RabbitEstonia4:06


You can find more themed playlists on our site, and if you are not sure which track to choose, write to net@eastaste.net and we help you to find the perfect one!



Author: Renato Horvath