What is a synchronization license?

A synchronization license is permission to release a new recording of a song that someone else wrote, in video format. Common uses of a synchronization license include YouTube videos of cover songs, wedding DVDs, and commercial and corporate promotions.

Do you need a synchronization license?

Whenever you release a new 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. 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.

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 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.

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.

Who gets paid?

A synchronization license pays a royalty to the copyright holder 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. When you hire us for custom licensing assistance, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.

One important distinction is that a synchronization license pays the composer for the right to use the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song), whereas a master license pays the artist for the right to use the original recorded audio (recording of musicians playing the song). Often the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. For this reason, there are two types of licenses to protect the two types of creations: 1) a synchronization license for the composer to protect the composition, and 2) a master license for the recording artist to protect the original recording.

How do you get a synchronization license?

A synchronization 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 synchronization 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 synchronization licenses are custom negotiated with the copyright holder. This can be challenging because, by law, synchronization 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 synchronization license.

When should you have your synchronization licensing in place?

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.

When happens if you 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, 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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