A synchronization license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song) that grants permission to release the song in a video format (YouTube, DVDs, Blue-ray discs). This permission is also called synchronization rights, synch rights, or sync rights.
Do I Need a Synchronization License?
Whenever you release a recording of a song that someone else wrote in a video format, even if it's just a small portion of the song, you need a synchronization license. Synchronization licenses are most commonly used for YouTube videos, cover song videos, wedding videos, and commercial and corporate videos. For example, if you release a YouTube video of your band playing a Rolling Stones song, even if you use only a portion of the song, you need a synchronization license. If you release a DVD of yourself playing a Beach Boys song or singing Mariah Carey lyrics, you need a synchronization license.
A synchronization license is required no matter how small a portion of the song you use. For medleys, each song part requires a separate synchronization license. There are some exceptions where a synchronization license is not required: You don't need a synchronization license for songs that you wrote yourself or songs that are in the public domain.
Note that synchronization licenses are for video products (DVDs, YouTube videos, other web videos, and slideshows). If you are creating an audio-only product, such as CDs or vinyl records, you need a mechanical license instead. Mechanical is for audio-only, synchronization is for video.
If you use an original sound recording belonging to someone else (for example, an actual Beatles recording featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison) you will need a synchronization license to pay the composer for the right to use the composition (song), and also a master license to pay the artists for the right to use the recording. This is true even if you are sampling only a very small portion of any existing copyrighted audio recording.
If you display lyrics or music notes in your video you will also need a print license to pay the composer for the right to display the composition (song).
How Do I Get a Synchronization License?
Synchronization licenses are custom-negotiated directly with the copyright holder upfront and can be quite complex. For help with this process, check out our Custom Licensing services or contact us. Alternatively, you can attempt to locate the copyright owners yourself and request permission.
Challenges of Obtaining Synchronization Licenses
Note that synchronization licensing can be challenging because, by law, synchronization rights holders maintain total control of their works when it comes to video. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department. For this reason, it is important to temper expectations when requesting a synchronization license.
Who Gets Paid?
A synchronization license pays a royalty to the copyright holder (owner) of the composition (song). This is typically the composer or their publisher. However, sometimes rights are sold. If synchronization rights are sold, a song might have a new owner, other than the original composer or publisher. For this reason, it is important to locate the current copyright holders before making a synchronization request. When you hire us for Custom Licensing, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.
It is important to note that underlying what most people think of as a "song" is actually two components: the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song, created by the composers) and the original recorded audio (recording of musicians playing the song, created by the artists). Often the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. These song components can be owned separately by different entities. For this reason, there are two types of licenses to protect the two types of creations: 1) a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video) for the composer to protect the composition, and 2) a master license for the recording artist to protect the original recording. It's important to understand both components, and both types of licenses when obtaining permission for a "song:"
1) Musical Composition (Mechanical or Synchronization rights)
The composition is the music notes and lyrics that define a song. The rights to the composition are usually owned by the composer or their publisher. Permission is obtained through a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video).
Synchronization licenses must be secured before distribution. However, because they are hard to get, we suggest making your request many months before your anticipated release date. It is also smart to have at least one backup plan in place, in case you are unable to get the synchronization rights you want. We offer strategic planning as part of our Custom Licensing services. Discover efficient solutions and avoid costly detours by leveraging our experience and expertise.
When Happens if I Don't Get a License?
We are not in the business of enforcement. However there are publishers, labels, and third parties out there who are. The result can be permanent strikes on your account, a take-down of the material, and in some cases legal action. Will you get caught? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are many more reasons to do things right than just the fear of getting caught. Check out all our reasons to get a license.