What is a print license?

A print license is permission to print or display electronically the sheet music, notes, or lyrics of a song that someone else wrote.

Do you need a print license?

Whenever you print, display, or rearrange (on paper 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.

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. School band 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, musicnotes.com, your favorite music retailer, or from the publisher directly. However, if you need to reprint lyrics or music in your own creation, derivative arrangement, or compilation, a print license is necessary.

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.

Who gets paid?

A print license pays a royalty to the copyright holder of the composition (song). The copyright holder is typically the composer of the song 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. When you hire us for custom licensing assistance, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.

How do you get a print license?

A print license is obtained by asking the copyright holder for permission directly. This is typically the composer or their publisher, unless ownership has changed hands. Getting a print license can be complicated. For this reason, we offer a service to help you with this for a fee. Learn more about our custom licensing services.

Note that print licenses are custom negotiated with the copyright holder. This can be challenging because, by law, print rights holders maintain total control of their works. 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 print license.

When should you have your 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 some backup plan in place, in case you are unable to get the print rights you want.

When happens if you don't get a license?

We are not in the business of enforcement. However there are publishers and third parties who actively seek out copyright violators. The result can be permanent strikes on your account, takedown 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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