A Crash Course Music Rights

(For Sync Licensing)

When it comes to licensing music, the landscape can seem like a tangled web of legalities and terminologies, especially for those who don’t come from a musical background. But don’t fret – it’s not as complex as it appears. This article aims to demystify the basic fundamentals of music rights, covering copyright and master rights, how they affect the licensing process, and the role of various parties involved in owning and managing these rights.

Understanding Music Rights

Copyright (50%)

Copyright is the protection granted to the creator of the original work, granting them exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license their work. In music, this applies to the composition itself: the melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics. This right is usually owned by the artist, composer, or writer who created the song.

Master right (50%)

Master rights pertain to the specific recording of a song. These rights belong to the person or entity who financed the recording, usually a record label. They control the use of that specific recording.

For a piece of music to be legally used (licensed), both the copyright and master rights need to be cleared. This is because the composition and the recording of a song are two separate entities, each holding its own set of rights.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are instances where only one set of rights might be licensed. For example, a licensor may only obtain the copyright and then remake the master or remix it. Alternatively, if the copyright on a song has expired (typically 70 years after the death of the last surviving writer), a new master recording can be made and licensed without needing to clear the copyright.

Parties Involved in Owning and Managing Rights

Music rights can be owned and managed by various parties, including artists/composers/writers, publishers, labels, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), and Collective Management Organizations (CMOs). Here’s a brief rundown on their roles:

Artists/Composers/Writers: They usually own the rights to their music. However, they may assign their rights to labels or publishers for management. Publishers: They manage the copyrights of songs on behalf of the artists. They handle the licensing of songs for use in media like films, TV, and ads. Record Labels: They typically control the master rights as they finance the recording. They manage the distribution and promotion of the recording. PROs/CMOs: They collect and distribute income derived from the public performance of songs, such as radio play, concerts, and streaming.

It’s worth noting that not all parties are always involved. For instance, an independent artist might choose to manage their own rights, acting as their own label and publisher.

Licensing The Rights

Music licensing involves agreements on both sides – the copyright and the master rights. Often, these agreements align in terms of money, usage, and territory because both rights are needed to legally use a song. Many companies simplify this process by offering a “one-stop” license, which consolidates all these rights and agreements into a single package. This approach is efficient and eliminates the need for multiple negotiations. However, if a one-stop license isn’t available, you’ll need to negotiate with each rights owner or controller, which could be time-consuming. A good starting point for licensing requests are publishers or record labels. Alternatively, you can explore sync licensing libraries that offer various licenses, including one-stop licenses


In conclusion, understanding the basics of music rights is crucial for anyone interested in licensing music. Though the landscape might initially seem complex, it becomes much simpler when you understand the fundamentals of copyright and master rights, and the roles of various parties involved. If you are interested in understanding these rights in detail, visit this article. It explains all the organisations, roles and spits involved of these basic two rights.