Music Rights

Unfortunately, one of the most important aspects of making a film, the music, is often neglected until the very end of post-production. This is a mistake and could come back to haunt you. Therefore, it is in your best interest to start thinking about the music in your film during pre-production.

Remember: You cannot mix your film if you do not have the music licenses.

Working with a Composer

If you want your film scored, then you will want to contact several composers during pre-production. Explain to them what your story is about and ask them to send a demo reel. If you like their work, then ask them to produce a temp track based on the ideas expressed in the script. If you like the temp track, hire them to score the film. You should have them sign the School’s Composer Contract at the moment of hiring before they begin any work.

Provide them with copies of early cuts as well as the final cut of your film. The composer will then compose the score and submit the final mix to you.

Licensed Music

If you want to use pre-existing music, then you will need to obtain the proper licenses in order to use the music in your film. You must get each license for at least:

  • Two-years
  • Film festival
  • Non-commercial
  • World rights

Getting the music rights could be as simple as sending letters to the publisher and record label, having them sign and return them. However, you may be required to complete their licensing agreements instead. If this is the case, make sure you have the Head of Production review the agreement before you sign it, to ensure we have the proper releases.

There are typically two different types of licenses that you will need to acquire:

Synchronization License

This is the right to reproduce a specific musical composition in your film. It must be obtained from the copyright owner of the composition, which is usually the publisher. You can find out who the publisher is by searching by song title at either or

Almost every song is represented by one of these two companies. Songs that are not represented by ASCAP or BMI might be found at the National Music Publishers’ Association “Songfile” website ( You will be provided with a contact at the publisher’s Business Affairs or Licensing Department.

Note that you will need to get a synchronization license from the publisher, even if you are making your own sound recording of that song. For example, if you have your actor sing or recite lyrics, whistle or hum the tune, play the song on a musical instrument, or in any way make your own sound recording of the song, you will need to get the synchronization license from the publisher.

Master Use License

This is the right to synchronize a sound recording with your visual image. You clear this right with the record label who owns the sound recording you would like to use. Check the liner notes of the recording to find out which company this is. Alternatively, you can get contact information for record labels by contacting either ASCAP or BMI (see above). You will be provided with a contact at the record label’s Business Affairs Department.

Library Music

The school pays an annual fee to Universal Production Music (Killer Tracks) for licenses to their library music. You are free to use any and all of the music in that library and no releases need to be signed. You will need to credit the song title and composer in the finished film for each piece of music that you use. Here’s an example:

Public Domain Music

If you want to use a piece of music currently in the public domain, be careful. Know for sure that the piece of music is actually in the public domain. This can sometimes take a fair amount of research, as there is often unclear and unreliable information circulating about works that are supposedly in the public domain. All songs and musical works published in 1925 or earlier are in the public domain; anything published after 1925 should be assumed to be under copyright, unless otherwise stated. If the piece of music is in the public domain, then you can use it.

However, be aware that just because a musical composition may be in the public domain, that does not necessarily mean the sound recording of that composition is in the public domain. For example, the musical composition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is in the public domain, but the New York Symphony Orchestra’s recent recording of it is not. If you would like to use that particular recording in your film, you will need to get a license from the publishing company that holds the rights to that specific recording. You could, however, hire your own musicians to perform the 9th Symphony without needing to acquire a license to use the composition.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a community that offers an alternative copyright model for authors of creative works who would like others to be able to share, remix, sample, or build upon their work. Creative Commons provides a range of licenses that authors can attach to their creative works, giving other people greater or lesser degrees of permission to share or modify the work.

You may use Creative Commons work in your film if the original work has been licensed with one of the following license types, so long as you provide attribution in your film’s end credits:

Attribution • Non-Commercial

Some of the Creative Commons licenses, however, do not play nicely with how we make movies. If you see licenses on works that include either of the following terms, you will most likely not be permitted to use those works:

  • NoDerivs. This license does not permit derivative works and requires that the original work is passed along unchanged and in whole, which is unlikely to happen in the context of our films.
  • ShareAlike. This license requires you to also license your work with a ShareAlike license. However, since the College owns the copyright on all student films, students are not permitted to license their films with a Creative Commons license, which makes it impossible for you to honor the original Creative Commons license.

Note, however, that many authors who’ve opted for a NoDerivs or ShareAlike license may be open to giving you permission to use their work if you contact them directly. If they are willing, you’ll need to follow the College’s usual process of acquiring a licensing agreement for a copyrighted work.