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Music License confusion – Non-PRO vs PRO tracks5 min read

We recently got this question from a confused customer who didn’t quite understand the role of performing rights organizations / royalty collection societies, and how it applies to stock music / royalty-free music. I ended up writing a lengthy answer to her, which I felt could be of use or interest to other customers too, so I turned it into this blog article.

This particular customer is in Italy, so her local collection society is SIAE, but the same applies in other countries. For example, if you’re in the UK, the performing rights society is PRS and if you’re in Germany, they are GEMA. But pretty much, the same principles apply.

Many of you will have noticed that whilst you search or browse for music on our site, you always have the option to “Display PRO and Non-PRO Tracks”, or “Display Non-PRO Tracks only”. But what really is the difference, and when / how / why does it matter?

PRO in this case does not stand for “Professional” as you may first think. It stands for Performing Rights Organization. PRO tracks are composed by composers who are members of Performing Rights Organizations. For those composers, neither we, nor any other stock music site, can legally sell the Performing Rights to their tracks. Non-PRO tracks are composed by composers who are not members of a Performing Rights Organization, and as such, we at or other stock music sites can in fact sell you the Performing Rights to their music.

In a music track there are three “rights”, three different parts of the copyright:

  1. Sync rights = The rights to use the music and put it into a media project, such as a film or a video game.
  2. Mechanical rights = The rights to produce CD’s, DVD’s or other physical objects that contain the music.
  3. Performing rights = The rights to broadcast the music on TV or radio,
    or to play it in a public place (such as a restaurant, cinema, etc.)

Depending on what you are going to use the music for, you may need
only one of these rights, or you may need two of these rights, or you
may need all three. If you are only going to make a film and put it on
YouTube, you really only need the Sync rights. You don’t need the
performing rights, because YouTube is the broadcaster and they already have performing rights.

Or maybe you are going to make a film about your local city and make
1,000 DVD’s of that film. And you want to use our music in your film. Then
you need the Sync- rights (to put our music in your film) and you need
the Mechanical rights (to manufacture DVD’s that contain the film that
contains our music). But you don’t need the Performing rights, because
you have no plans to broadcast this music on TV or Radio, or to play the
film in a public place such as a restaurant etc.

Broadcasters such as NBC, BBC etc
already have performing licenses, so
you don’t need one.

Remember also that existing broadcasters, such as TV stations, radio stations, cinemas, YouTube, etc. already have a Performing right license. So, if you are going to make a film which may possibly be broadcast on national Italian television later, you don’t need the Performing rights. It’s the TV station that needs the performing license. They are the broadcaster, not you. And they already have that license. All “real” broadcasting companies, TV stations, radio stations etc. already have performing licenses from the PRO in their country, which they pay for as one big payment each year. So for them, it doesn’t matter if the music is PRO or Non-PRO. They have already paid their large, annual sum for their performing license, so they already have the Performing rights covered. Which again means that you don’t need to buy the performing rights from us.

So… you see, whether or not you need Non-PRO Tracks, or just any tracks from our site, depends on how you are going to use the music. If you are going to play the music in public, or on your website, then you need the Performing rights. But if you are not going to play the music in public, or on a website, then you don’t need the Performing rights. And if you don’t need the performing rights, then you can use any tracks from our site.

If you need the Performing Rights to a track, and that track is “Non-PRO”, then simply buy the track from our site. With the Non-PRO tracks you are buying all three rights from us.

If you need the Performing Rights to a track and that track is “PRO”, then you have to buy that right from the performing rights society in your country. From our site you can buy only the two other rights; the Sync rights and the Mechanical rights.

As it turns out, the vast majority of our customers do not need the performing rights. They only need the Sync- and or Mechanical rights. And if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter if you choose “PRO” or “Non-PRO” tracks. Many royalty-free music websites don’t even tell you which tracks are PRO and which are Non-PRO, because they figure it is so unlikely that you actually need the Performing Rights, that they don’t want to confuse you with PRO vs Non-PRO music.

On our website you can choose to browse only Non-PRO tracks if you like. As you Search or Browse for music tracks on our website, take a note of the options: “Display PRO and Non-PRO Tracks” / “Display Non-PRO Tracks only” options on top of the list of tracks.

I hope this has been helpful.

Bjorn Lynne

Bjørn Lynne is a Norwegian sound engineer and music composer, now living and working in Stavern, Norway. He was also known as a tracker music composer under the name "Dr. Awesome" in the demoscene in the 1980s and 1990s when he released tunes in MOD format and made music for Amiga games.