Music Licensing Agreement for Use in a Film/Video: Template Kit Contract template for use by musician or filmmaker

Music Licensing Agreement for Musicians and Filmmakers - Pyragraph

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Special thanks to Attorney Richard Stim for editorial feedback and contributions to this Kit.


Anyone who has ever made a video or film knows that music can have a huge impact on the final product. This is true for just about any kind of video, from a narrative thriller to a television commercial spot to an industrial training video: Music helps set the tone, engages viewers, and can sometimes make or break a video project.

It follows that as a video/filmmaker, or as a musician, it’s important to understand how to obtain or give the necessary rights to a piece of music so that everyone is on the same page about how the music will be used, what fees will be paid (if any), and other important terms. Knowing the basics of music licensing is important to avoid conflicts—or even worse, allegations of infringement or other legal troubles—which are especially painful to deal with after a film is made.

That’s where this Music Licensing Agreement comes in: It is a simple legal document covering the important aspects of the agreement between the musician and filmmaker, regarding use of a piece of music in a video/film.

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Who Is This Agreement For?

The info and agreement template in this Licensing Kit is aimed at helping filmmakers and musicians execute an agreement for a song to be included in a film or video. The agreement template is for a song recording that already exists; if the filmmaker wants to record their own cover, there are additional issues to consider that are discussed below; you may need an additional agreement in this case.

Note that this kit is not geared for developing a music video; the process and issues involved in making music videos are different. (We will publish a legal kit for music videos in the near future.)

We’ll assume that you are either a filmmaker or a songwriter; the agreement template we provide in this kit is suitable for either party and not weighted towards either the filmmaker’s or songwriter’s interests.

We’ll also assume that the songwriter manages their own compositions and is not represented by or affiliated with a music publisher (such as the Harry Fox Agency). As noted throughout the material below, it is possible that some other entity owns one or more of the copyrights involved in a music licensing deal, and in that case you’ll need to make sure the right entities are involved. You can still use the information in this kit to guide you, but you may need to use a specific agreement provided by the music publishing company, record label, etc.

Before walking you through the terms of our agreement template let’s take a quick look at some of the essential background info you should know about music and copyright.

Who Owns What?

Let’s start with some context. We’re talking about intellectual property here: creative work that is owned by the person (or sometimes, a company) who creates the work.

As a musician, you own songs that you write, and recordings that you produce. This ownership is generally called copyright: i.e., artists own copyright in the works they create: songs, paintings, poems, photographs, novels, etc. When you own copyright, that means that no one else may reproduce your work without your permission. If they do, they are committing what is called infringement, which means they are illegally using your work, and may be subject to legal penalties such as fines.

When it comes to musical recordings, there are two copyrights:

  1. one for the song itself (mainly the melody and lyrics), and
  2. another for the particular recording of the song.

Let’s look at each of these just a tiny bit more closely.

Song Composition Copyright

As the person who writes a song, the songwriter is the owner of copyright in the song. Note that copyright protects melody and lyrics; you can’t copyright chord progressions. (Weird, right?)

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About Peri Pakroo

Peri Pakroo is the founder, Publisher and Editor of Pyragraph. Outside her work with Pyragraph, Peri is a business author and coach, specializing in creative and smart strategies for self-employment and small business. She has started, participated in, and consulted with businesses and nonprofits for more than 20 years. Her focus is on helping people build structure for their passions to find success on their own terms. Her blog is at www.peripakroo.com.

Peri received her law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1995, and a year later began editing and writing for Nolo, specializing in business and intellectual property issues. She is the author of several top-selling Nolo titles on small business and nonprofit start-ups including The Small Business Start-Up Kit, The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit and Starting & Building a Nonprofit

Peri accidentally started her first band The Moist Towelettes at the age of 40 with her husband Turtle O’Toole. Since then she has played in a number of bands including the blurts and her own downer-country project, Peri & the FAQs.

In 2012, Peri saw the need for a resource featuring the voices of a wide range of creative workers and the many different career paths they take. She founded Pyragraph to fill this need. Here’s the Pyragraph start-up story.

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