Protecting Your Website Legally From the Music Industry

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Protecting Your Website Legally From the Music Industry

In the connected world, where businesses are springing up like dandelions and anyone with a computer can upload video, audio and text-based content to share across the web, it is increasingly important to understand the potential legal risks that online businesses to deal with.

Most internet companies use some type 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 that you did not 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 series, commercials, Internet video, multimedia and any other form of media that requires music.

If you’ve ever listened to an ad on the radio, watched an infomercial, or heard menu music on a video game, you’ve probably heard production music.

Production music libraries cover a multitude of genres, providing music for most tastes at various quality levels. Traditionally, production music comes in shorter lengths. These lengths are usually 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 that one or possibly two of the most important instruments have been removed.

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

How do I get a license?
Something called a synchronization license or synchronization license must be obtained for the music in question before it can be used in any audiovisual production, such as a film, television program, television commercial, video production or website.

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

How do I get a Sync license?
Publishers of production music will usually license music on what is called an emergency 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 used. The rule of thumb when pricing Drop licenses is – the bigger the audience, the higher the price. (Rate cards can be requested with Drop licenses.)

A Blanket License is a license that grants a user either a specified number of music selections or unlimited use of music selections in any given production. The difference between a blanket and drop license is a drop is issued for one song, a blanket for many. Getting a blanket license involves dozens of variables, so it usually requires some negotiation. Venues such as radio stations or nightclubs will often require licences.

Is a Sync license the same as a performance license (permission of the musician)?
Unfortunately, no it is not. Obtaining a sync license does not exempt you from obtaining legal permission from the artist. And since musicians are not known for their knowledge of the legal system, you can imagine that obtaining such a license would be quite difficult. In reality, the opposite is the case.

The reason for the relative ease of obtaining a Performance License is that most musicians are represented by one of two bodies or “performance law associations” that handle the legal jargon. These societies manage the rights of artists and ensure that artists are paid when you play their songs in a “public” venue.

Performing rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC raise money for composers and publishers. These societies handle performance licenses and should be consulted before publishing a finalized work.

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

What happens if I don’t have a performance license?
Users of production music are at risk of copyright infringement without a license from a performing rights organization. If you​​​​are an individual with a small audience and no real money (so you are not a company), then you have a lower risk of having a lawsuit brought against you for copyright infringement.

If you are an individual with a large audience or a company or organization and you do not get the right license, be prepared to hire a lawyer.

The basic rule with rich media on your website is this: If you’re going to use unlicensed audio, make sure no one sees it. This can be a difficult rule for most webmasters to abide by, as the purpose of internet businesses is to be seen. Although it is much more expensive than “free”, the best choice for sites with a large audience is to be safe and buy the required licenses.

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