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AAA Music | 2 July 2022

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Is the Music You Are Using Cleared for Commercial Use? What You Need to Know About Music Licensing

| On 06, Apr 2022

If your company or venture is shooting a commercial, whether it’s a low-budget ad or something you planned for months and spent thousands of dollars on, then no doubt you’ll want to add great music to match and compliment your visuals. 

Whether the advert is aired online or via traditional means such as TV, you’ll need to make sure that the music you use comes with the appropriate license for commercial use. This isn’t as simple and as straightforward as you might at first think.

To use a song for your commercial requires two licenses, one covers the right to use the song itself (a synchronization license), and the other is the master license to use the recording of that song.

This doubling up of licenses, and the requisite costs, sometimes leads companies to opt to record cover versions of existing songs, meaning they’d only need the first license. However, the costs of clearing even one of these licenses are very high.

Music Licensing

If you’ve never experienced the vagaries and tribulations related to music licensing, then let us forewarn you that you are in for quite a minefield of information and potential legal pitfalls, as well as high costs. 

It’s notoriously hard to secure the clearance you need in order to use a licensed piece of music, and that’s doubly so if it’s for commercial use. 

You may hope to use license-free music, but in reality, this doesn’t really exist, outside very rare cases that we’ll detail. However, there are alternatives that can be very useful as options preferable to spending huge sums on existing mainstream music.

Say, for instance, you really want to use a famous song or a big hit that’s popular right now for your commercial. First, you’ll need to ascertain who owns the license to the song, and this can be a number of individuals and entities. These can include the production company that owns an artist’s catalog or could be the artist themselves.

Once you’ve found the relevant parties, you’ll need to apply for the license to use the copyright-protected track, and this will take a long time to process and require a great deal of back and forth and ideally, you’d have the services of a legal representative to aid you through this route.

Examples of Music That Has No License or Copyright

In some cases, there are examples of music that has seen its copyright expire or even have no copyright, to begin with, but in both these cases, we are pretty much talking about music that was recorded at least 75 years ago and, as such, isn’t likely to be a good fit with your commercial.

Penalties for Not Securing the License

You shouldn’t consider using music without getting the relevant permissions, even if you think that a select few will see your marketing campaign. The penalties of illegal use are severe, and the chances of being caught are very high indeed.

If the commercial you are making is aired online, then the technology already exists that can seek out such activity within minutes. Think, for instance, of social media networks. Often an individual, even by mistake, might air a post that happens to feature a well-known song playing in the background, the technology available can pick this out and ascertain whether it’s used without a license, and within a matter of minutes, a social media account can be suspended. 

If you use music in your commercial without the proper clearance, then you’ll be the subject of a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice that you’ll need to respond to. This will then more than likely lead to a possible financial penalty, and for repeated violations, there is the possibility of a custodial sentence.

Large publishing companies will not stand for such behavior and have the benefit of legal teams that will follow up on such transgressions with little or no mercy. 

Alternatives to Mainstream Music

The costs associated with clearing even one track for your commercial purposes are likely to be immense. In cases where the music you want to use is just for personal use or even for social media posts, the cost would be fairly high, but once the license you are looking for relates to commercial use, then the costs skyrocket. 

Also, factor in that there’s a decent chance that the rights holder won’t give you permission anyway, in which case, why not look into alternatives?

Royalty-free music is a rapidly growing industry and is of great use for those seeking to score their commercials. Providers offer royalty-free music via a subscription service which unlocks thousands of tracks and, in some cases, vast sound effects libraries and even copyright free videos without watermark for you to use for a monthly or annual fee which is far lower than the cost of even one existing mainstream track.

The advantages to using royalty-free music, aside from cost, include the fact that you get to look for a song or portion of a track that is perfect for your needs. You can look through the many options provided to help narrow your search according to musical style and mood, and in this way, you are thinking more objectively about the needs of the commercial rather than just selecting a song that you heard and then thought it might work well with what you’ve shot.

This is a far more fit for purpose way of aligning the music to the commercial you are selecting it for.