Famous songs are protected by two different copyright licenses — both the master use license and the sync (synchronization) license, which allows you to use the composition.. To license a famous song, you will need to contact the holder of each license and agree to terms.
If the holders of the license agree to transfer the license to you, there is generally a large fee involved. This fee is less than the legal battle and costs that can ensue if you do not obtain proper permission, however.
It is important to have legal permission to access a song before you use it in projects or for commercial use.
What License Is Needed for a Famous Song?
Famous and commercial songs are copyright protected with two licenses.
The first is the composition license, which protects the musical work — the song’s underlying composition and lyrics. This license can be held by the musical composer or songwriter. To use this legally, you will need a music sync license.
The second form of copyright protection for a famous song is the master use license. This protects the overall sound recording of the song. This license is often held by the musical artist, producer, or the record label.
To license a famous song, you need both the sync license and the master use license.
How to Get Permission to Use the Song
To use a famous song legally, you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders. You’ll need to track down who holds the two different copyright licenses and contact them directly about use. You may have to contact the record label or producer of a certain song in order to get this information.
Once you make contact, you will need their approval to use the song. They will then need to transfer the rights over to you for its use. This typically comes with a fee.
The copyright holder can also request future royalties for use of their song.
Consequences for Not Obtaining Permission
If you do not obtain proper permission before using a famous song, you can face legal troubles. The holders of the copyright licenses can take you to court and sue you for copyright infringement.
There have been numerous copyright infringement lawsuits over the years that have paid out massive amounts of money based on the scope of the theft of the song.
On a smaller scale, you can also face having your video or project blocked, muted, or taken down from social media platforms if you are using a song illegally. Using a copyrighted song without proper permission is a crime.
How to License a Famous Song: The Step-by-Step Process
To license a famous song, follow these steps:
- Determine if the song is copyright protected or if it is available in the public domain without a license.
- Identify who holds the copyright licenses.
- Contact the license holders.
- Negotiate the price or fee for the song rights.
- Transfer the rights.
Costs to License a Famous Song
Costs for licensing a famous song can range from as low as $100 for an independent artist to as high as several hundred thousand dollars plus licensing fees for a major recording artist or label. The cost is variable and dependent on the deal that you make with the copyright license holders.
Be aware that famous songs may be more expensive to license simply because they can command a higher price due to their popularity.
Any song that is published prior 1925 is in the public domain and therefore can be used for free without a copyright license.
In addition to songs in the public domain, you can also choose to use songs that are considered royalty-free. These songs are often created by independent artists or composers and are not subject to copyright laws. They do still require licensing to use them in projects, but you can obtain the rights to these songs through a subscription service with a major provider or pay a fee for one-time use for that particular track.
You can also use songs that are protected by the Creative Commons (CC) license. These are available to use for free as long as you credit the creator or composer.
There are several options when it comes to using music legally and not all of them are expensive or difficult.
What Musicians Should Know About Copyright. U.S. Copyright Office.
The Lifecycle of Copyright: 1925 Works Enter the Public Domain. (January 2021). U.S. Library of Congress.
How to Acquire Music for Films. ASCAP.