Protecting Your Website Legally From the Music Industry

In the connected world, where businesses pop up like dandelions and anyone with a computer can upload video, audio and text-based content to be shared across the web, it is of growing importance to understand the potential legal risks that online businesses face.

Most internet businesses make use of some sort of rich media on their websites such as video or music. What most don't realize is that even the smallest S-Corp can find itself in hot water with the music industry if it doesn't understand the basics.

The intent of this article is to focus on the use of production music (any music on your website you did personally create) and the ways you can protect your business or yourself from copyright infringement.

What is production music?
Production music is music intended for use in connection with websites, films, corporate videos, television shows, commercials, Internet video, multimedia and any other form of media that requires music.

If you've ever listened to an advertisement on the radio, watched an infomercial, or heard menu music on a video game, then you have probably heard production music.

Production music libraries cover a multitude of genres, providing music for most tastes at varying levels of quality. Traditionally, production music comes in shorter lengths. These lengths are normally 30 seconds, 60 seconds and 90 seconds. Production music also comes in different variations known as full and reduced versions. Reduced versions are identical to full versions with the exception of one or possibly two of the main instruments having been removed.

Who uses production music?
Production music is most widely used by industry experts like, video editors, producers, music supervisors, videographers, and creative directors. Although increasingly, it is being used by relative amateurs for websites, podcasts, streaming video and more.

How do I Get a License?
Something called a Synchronization License or Sync License must be obtained for the music in question before it can be utilized in any audiovisual production, such as a motion picture, television program, television commercial, video production, or website.

Sync Licenses come in different shapes and sizes. Two of the most popular are a Drop License and Blanket License. They are most commonly made available by production music publishers such as Slynth (www.slynth.com).

How do I get a Sync License?
Production music publishers will usually license music on what is called a needle drop (aka Drop License) or a Blanket License.

A needle drop or Drop License is a license that requires payment for individual songs. The prices for each song vary depending on the type of production in which the song is being used. The rule of thumb when pricing Drop Licenses is – the larger the audience, the higher the price. (Rate cards can be requested with Drop Licenses.)

A Blanket license is a license that affords a user either a set number of music selections or unlimited use of music selections in any given production. The distinction between a blanket and drop license is a drop is issued for one song, a blanket for many. Obtaining a blanket license involves dozens of variables, so it usually requires some negotiation. Venues such as radio stations or night clubs will often require blanket licenses.

Is A Sync License the Same as a Performance License (Permission from the Musician)?
Unfortunately, no it isn't. Obtaining a Sync License does not absolve you from getting legal permission from the artist. And, seeing as musicians aren't known for their knowledge of the legal system, you might imagine that obtaining such a license would be rather difficult. In actuality, the opposite is the case.

The reason for the relative ease of obtaining a Performance License is most musicians are represented by one of two agencies or "performance right societies" that handle the legal jargon. These societies manage the rights of performers and see to it that artists get paid when you play their songs in a "public" venue.

Performance rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC collect monies for composers and publishers. These societies handle Performance Licenses and should be consulted before you publish any finalized work.

Who needs a performance license?
Anyone who uses copyrighted music in a public place including radio and television stations and / or their networks, all new media, like the Internet and mobile technologies such as ringbacks and ringtones, satellite services like XM and Sirius, discos, nightclubs, bars, restaurants , hotels, and other venues. This includes digital jukeboxes and live concerts. All should obtain a performance license.

What happens if I don't have a performance license?
Production music users are in danger of copyright infringement without a license from a performing rights organization. If you're an individual with a small audience and no real money (ie you're not a business), then you are at lower risk of having suit brought against you for copyright infringement.

However, if you're an individual with a large audience or you're a business or organization and you fail to obtain the proper licensing, be prepared to hire a lawyer.

The basic rule of thumb with rich media on your website is this: If you're going to use audio without a license, make sure no one sees it. This may be a difficult rule for most webmasters to cope with, as the purpose of internet businesses is to be seen. Although its far more expensive than "free" the best choice for sites with large audiences, is to be safe and purchase the required licenses.

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