Disclaimer Please note this is not a substitute for legal advice, but a quick overview of the complex music licensing world.
Music Licensing Overview and Definitions
Why do I need licenses to use music?
Anyone that creates something original, whether music, films, games, or a painting, has a right to control what happens to their original creations. Every time someone (or some company) wants to use music they need to ask for and get permission from all the creators and in almost every case pay for the right to use that music. Those contracts are licenses. The artists you know and love all want to be paid for their work!
You said I need “licenses”. Why do I need multiple licenses?
Every piece of recorded music has two different copyrights that each require a license – the copyright on the recorded version of the song, often called a “master recording” and a copyright on the underlying words and notes for each song generally referred to as a “composition” (because it is written by composers).
So which copyright does a Record Label control?
The master recording is generally owned and controlled by the record label. A record label does a deal with an artist/musician to record music and in return, the record label markets, promotes AND LICENSES the records. The record label handles the contracts, collects the money and shares it with the artists.
Then what about the Composition? Who licenses that?
A composer or writer often signs an agreement with another company called a Publisher to help them find licensing opportunities, negotiate contracts and collect money on their behalf. The composition licensing side can get very complicated, as it is not uncommon for multiple writers/composers to compose one song and each writer may be signed to a different publisher. Additionally, if you are going to be publicly performing the songs (like playing music during a fitness class, playing music in bar or retail store, streaming music on the internet) you need a public performance license (see PRO discussion below).
Business Use Cases and Rights Holders
How do I get these licenses?
First, you need to identify how you are using music in your business.
Once that’s clear, you can go directly to the rights holders for permission.
If you want to use music in a movie, commercial (even a social media ad), television show or game you need a synchronization license. This allows you to use music behind moving images. For popular music, a synchronization license can ONLY be obtained on a song by song basis by getting a license for the song(s) from the record label/artist and the publishers/composers (and that means all the composers that own a part of the song).
Who to talk to: Record label and Publishers
If you want to use music in the background in your business or offer live music, you need a public performance license. A public performance license can be granted by a performing rights organization (“PRO”). In the US, there are 4 PRO’s. Each individual writer chooses what PRO they want to work with. The PRO makes it possible for a business to get one performance license that covers all of the writers that PRO represents. The only way to ensure you have a public performance license with all the writers of every song you use is to get a license with all 4 PRO’s. Note: you cannot use a personal streaming service (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) for a business purpose. Your license with the streaming service specifically prohibits this.
Who to talk to: All 4 Performance Rights Organizations, or work with a qualified background music provider.
If you want to use music in a fitness class (or any business in which music is integral to the experience), it’s more complicated. You still need to work with the PROs, but it’s a DIFFERENT license than the one you obtain for background usage.
Who to talk to: All 4 Performance Rights Organizations and Record Label, or work with a qualified Group Fitness music provider.
If you want to use music in your app or website alongside video and you want the music to be exactly the same every time it is viewed. Initially, this is what most content creators want for their On Demand video library. Unfortunately, this will require a synchronization license, similar to licensing music for a commercial and is incredibly costly and time consuming.
Who to talk to: Record label and Publishers
If you want to use music in your app or website and the music can be randomized for the end user. For example, a soundtrack to a workout that is pre-selected for beats per minute and timing, but songs are shuffled for the user each time they do the workout (like a radio station). This is considered Non Interactive and is orders of magnitude less expensive than Interactive/On Demand (think 100X cheaper) and does not require direct deals with labels or music publishers in the United States.
Who to talk to: Feed.fm
What are the penalties if I don’t pay for licenses?
Fines for copyright violations can be as high as $150,000 per infringed work and the music industry has increasingly been cracking down on the fitness industry over the last several years.
Are music rights global?
There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect a work throughout the world unless licenses are obtained directly from copyright holders (e.g. labels and music publishers). Outside the United States, most licenses are handled by rights societies in each country. Master Recording licenses can be obtained either from US record labels or their counterparts in other countries. Publishing licenses other than PRO’s need to be obtained from publishers in whatever country you are offering your product or service (although many publishers outside the US can cover multiple countries). Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country, which means that rights need to be secured for each country in which you wish to play music in a commercial setting.
Do I need to hire a music attorney?
If you’ve been using music in your business already without a license or without the right kind of license, we urge you to contact a music attorney or a company that can help you understand and obtain the correct licenses. Otherwise, we feel it is important to be educated on the risks and challenges around music licensing. That can be handled by hiring your own lawyer or working with a credible third party who can handle your licensing. If you choose a third party, it’s important that they have the rights to license content to you and will provide the proper indemnification. If you decide to use your own lawyer, it can get expensive but may be a way to get educated quickly, particularly if your music needs are a significant part of your business.
I’ve had Spotify and Apple Music integrations in my app for years. Why do I need to pay for anything?
What do I need to support a live broadcast that won’t be archived?
A live class served up digitally requires both sets of rights holders to be paid : sound recordings (labels or artists) and underlying compositions (publishers). Only paying PROs for these digital broadcasts is not enough. If you are a qualifying Internet Radio Broadcaster, you can pay for sound recordings through Sound Exchange. If not, you can talk to Feed.fm.
If I downloaded and paid for a song, can I play it legally in a business or a fitness class setting?
Downloading music you have paid for is in no way related to playing that music out in the open when people are paying your business for a service (e.g. a fitness class).
If I’m paying for background music, am I covered for group classes?
Standard PRO licenses for businesses do not include the right to use the songs in fitness classes. You have to obtain a separate license to use music in fitness classes.
What services does Feed.fm provide?
Feed.fm handles music licensing, rights holder payouts, curation, technology integration
and analytics for our customers. We currently power Background Music, Group Fitness Classes, Live Streaming, and On Demand video with popular music. Currently, we support Non Interactive use cases, but will support Interactive/On Demand in the future.
Does Feed.fm provide sync licenses?
Feed.fm has a limited catalog that it can provide for sync licenses. If you are looking to use major label content for a synchronization use case, we can connect you with the appropriate rightsholders.
How does Feed.fm charge for services?
Feed.fm is a monthly subscription service with fees based on variables including: level of curation customization, how many song streams you plan to do in a month, and what use case you need covered.