A print license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song), that grants permission to rearrange, print, or display the music notes or lyrics of the song. This permission is also called print rights.
Do I need a print license?
Whenever you rearrange, print, or display the sheet music, notes, or lyrics of a song that someone else wrote, even if it's just a small portion, you need a print license. For example, if you print the lyrics of a copyrighted song in the liner notes of your CD, you need a print license. If you display song lyrics on your web site, you need a print license. When Coca-Cola prints song lyrics on their soda cans, even if they use only a portion of the song, they need a print license.
A print license is required no matter how small a portion of the song you use. There are some exceptions where a print license is not required: You don't need a print license for songs that you wrote yourself or songs that are in the public domain.
If you wish to make a new arrangement of an existing composition, you need a print license. Examples include simplified sheet music arrangements and pop/show choir arrangements. Music directors often have extensive musical knowledge and wish to create their own custom arrangements. However, to do this legally, they need a print license.
If you make photocopies of sheet music for your church choir members, technically, you do need a print license. Although in this specific case, purchasing additional sheet music is a more practical alternate solution. If all you need is sheet music, you can simply purchase copies from our partner SheetMusicPlus.com.
However, if you need to reprint lyrics or music in your own creation, derivative arrangement, or compilation, a print license is necessary.
How do I get a print license?
Print 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 print licenses
Note that print licensing can be challenging because, by law, print rights holders maintain total control of their works when it comes to print uses. This means they can set any price, take all the time they want, or reject the license altogether. 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 print license.
Who gets paid?
A print 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 print 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 print request. When you hire us for Custom Licensing, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.
When should I have my print licensing in place?
Print 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 print 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.
What 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.
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