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Mechanical rights, moral rights, copyright free music, royalty free music, podcast legal music - what does it all mean?

Quick explanation of terms relating to Buyout music, music licensing and royalty-free music

In the world of music rights and commercial or in-public music use, there are a lot of terms and expressions that may be confusing to non-musicians. In fact, some of these are confusing even to musicians. In this article I will try to explain some of these terms and what they mean.

Copyright Free Music

This is a frequently misused term. There is extremely little "copyright free" music around, if any. As soon as a composer has composed a piece of music, it is automatically copyrighted to him/her, regardless of whether the composer actually takes any practical steps to "copyright" the music. If the composer gives somebody permission to use the music in a project, that doesn't mean the music is copyright free. Even music that you obtain from free music web sites, from a music library, from a royalty-free music source, etc., none of this means that the music is "copyright free". You should never assume that a piece of music is "copyright free", because it almost certainly is not, even if somebody tries to tell you that it is.

Music Library

A Music Library, aka Stock Music Library, is simply a "collection of existing music". People who are in a hurry to obtain music for a project will often use a Music Library because the music is already composed and immediately available. This term says nothing about what costs are involved with using the music. It may be subject to a one-time license payment, a monthly license payment, a per-sale royalty payment, or a combination of these. All this term means, really, is that the music already exists and will not be composed especially for you.

Royalty-Free Music

Royalty Free music (or Royaltyfree Music) means that you will only pay a one-time fee to use the music, and you will not pay a per-use or a per-sale royalty to the composer and/or publisher.

License Free Music

This is a bad term, because it actually means that the music doesn't need a License for use. This is never the case, though, so when people say "License Free", usually what they really mean is "Royalty-Free".

Buyout Music

Buyout Music (or Buy Out music) is a term that usually describes when a company or person pays the composer, producer and/or publisher a one-off sum of money, and then obtains all rights to that music. A lot of the time, music buyout is misused or misplaced. For example, a company might think that they need a total buyout of the music, but all they really need is a License to use the music for whatever puposes they want, forever. This would serve the exact same purpose, but leave the composer with his basic rights intact. If you are looking to obtain buyout music, most likely you are really looking for Royalty-Free music.

Some web sites or music libraries claim to sell Buyout Music, but what they are really selling is royalty-free music. If what they really sold was Buyout Music, then they would sell the music to you, then delete it from their own harddisk, never use it for any other purpose or sell it to anybody else -- they they would sign the copyright of the tracks over to you and retract it from anybody else they have ever given the track to in the past. That is a buyout. So really, what they are selling isn't buyout music, but royalty-free music, or other forms of non-exclusive music licences.

Podcast Safe Music

Podcasts are audio recordings made available for individual downloads or subscriptions. Some podcasts are pay-to-listen but most podcasts today are free. Podcasts are a great way to download audio recordings made by other people, because you can "subscribe" to them so they are automatically downloaded to your computer or iPod, without you having to download each programme/episode individually. Podcasts can include talk shows, reports, music shows, news bulletins and basically anything that can be delivered as an audio file.

Lately, Video Podcasts are also on the rise - which is the same thing but includes video as well as audio.

Podcast Safe Music means music that you can safely and legally use in your Podcast, without having to worry about being sued by the music copyright holders. Bands and artists may give their music for free to use in Podcasts, just in return for some promotion in the hope of getting some new fans. More often, Podcast Safe Music is found in music libraries such as the Shockwave-Sound.Com stock music library.



YouTube Safe Music

Just like Podcast Safe Music is music that you can legally use in Podcasts, YouTube Safe Music is music that you can safely and legally use in your own videos that you post to youTube (and similar services such as Google Video, Metacafe, etc) for the whole world to see. Again, such legal YouTube music can be obtained by visiting a good Stock Music Library.

By the way, if you are using music in YouTube videos, you may want to read this article about YouTube performance rights and music credits.

Work For Hire

A special arrangement governs music that was composed whilst the composer is an employee and composes music for his/her employer. The exact relationship between the employee and the employer will depend on their individual work contract, but in most cases (and if no particular contract exists) the composer will retain the actual copyright to the music, but the employer will have "free use" of the music without payment.

Moral Rights

Even when a composer has given (or sold) the master rights and publishing rights to a music publisher, he/she will always retain "moral rights" to his/her compositions. This enables the composer stop his/her music being used for particular projects on moral, political or religious grounds. For example, a composer who is strongly against smoking may have the right to reject having his music used in a cigarette commercial, even if all the other rights to the music has been signed away to a publishing company.

Mechanical Rights

In the rather complex world of music rights and copyrights, the various rights that exist in a music recording is often divided into three different classes: Synchronization Rights, Mechanical Rights and Performance Rights.

Mechanical Rights are the rights to produce physical items carrying the music, or a film that contains the music. For example, if you have made a film and you would like to manufacture 1,000 DVD's with that film. The film includes a few seconds of music. You need to obtain the mechanical rights to that music, before you're allowed to manufacture the physical DVD's that contain the film which contains the music.

Synchronization Rights

When you buy a CD in the record store, or you download a piece of music from iTunes, you are really only buying a license to listen to this music in your home, in your car and in your own personal music player. You may not use the music in conjunction with any other media. If you want to put that music to a film or any other visual media, you need the "Synchronization Rights", or the "Sync License". The term comes from the word Synchronize, as in, you're Synchronizing the audio to video. If you want to buy the Sync rights to a piece of music, you need to contact the copyright holder directly, or buy music from a Production Music Library such as this one.

Performance rights

In short, Performance Rights mean the rights to legally perform a piece of music in public, or broadcast it on radio, TV or over the internet. Basically, if you are playing music in such a way that other people can hear it and enjoy it, you need to obtain the Performance Rights to that music. Performance Rights are often administered by Performance Rights Organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, PRS, GEMA and similar.

Performance Rights are normally not obtained per-song. Instead, a music broadcaster such as a TV station or a radio station simply pays an annual license fee to ASCAP, BMI or similar. That annual license gives them the rights to play all the music they want in public, for a whole year.

Likewise, a dental surgery which keeps the radio playing, thus entertaining their customers with music from the radio, also need such a license. Again, they don't buy this "per song played", but rather buy an annual license.

When you buy "royalty-free music" from an online music library, you normally do not get the Performance Rights with your purchase. But then, most likely you don't need it either. You only need the Performance Rights if you are actually going to broadcast the music through a broadcasting company that don't already have an annual license -- which is highly unlikely.

Bespoke Music

This just means custom made music, written especially for the project.

About the author: Bjorn Lynne constantly finds himself inspired by new sounds and new directions in music and sound design. He started composing music on his Amiga computer around 1990 and from then on has gone on to produce more than 20 music albums, worked for 10 years as an Audio Manager in a video games development company, started his own business Lynne Publishing, (which owns and runs, scored music for film and TV, and produced a large amount of Stock Music and Sound Effects for the library. He lives with his wife and his daughter in an idyllic seaside town in Norway.
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