Answers to some frequently asked questions.






What is a copyright?  top

An exclusive legal protection of intellectual property. Although each country determines the copyright laws granted by their governments, most are signatories to the Berne Convention (international copyright treaty). The United States Library of Congress states on their website, the copyright law provides protection to authors of original works including musical, literary, dramatic, artistic and certain other intellectual works. A copyright is granted for both published and unpublished works.

What rights are granted by the copyright law?  top

The United States Copyright Act of 1976, Section 106, grants the copyright owner the exclusive right to do or authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

How can I learn more about copyright law?  top

For more information on copyright law and to obtain copyright forms, visit the U.S. Library of Congress website at 


What are the differences among mechanical, synchronization, print, performance and grand rights licenses?  top

Music publishers grant licenses or authorize others to issue the following licenses:

A MECHANICAL license grants the right to reproduce and distribute musical compositions on records or tapes and some digital formats. In order to sell recordings by any means whether in a bricks and mortar or online store or by internet downloads a license is needed. For licenses please contact for USA and for Canada Outside of the USA or Canada, please

SYNCHRONIZATION is a license to reproduce the musical composition simultaneously with a visual image on film, tv, video, commercials, and all audio visual productions. Synchronization (or synch) matches music to the action in a visual media. The license issued by a music publisher grants only the right to reproduce the musical composition, not the recording. Only the master rights owner, usually a record company, can issue a license to reproduce a recording. Please

PRINT is an agreement to reproduce the musical composition in sheet music or books such as folios, band arrangements or fakebooks for commercial sale at stores or online. For an agreement please

PERFORMING RIGHTS organizations license musical compositions for non-dramatic uses also known as SMALL RIGHTS for live or recorded public performances on radio, tv, concerts and other surveyed media including the internet. All music publishers and songwriters are members of only one performing rights society which represents them throughout the world. In the USA, the societies are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC Outside of the USA, most countries have a single society. For more information and to obtain licenses, please see the websites of each of these organizations.

Licenses for GRAND RIGHTS can only be granted by the copyright owner, usually the music publisher. These rights are for the public performance of the musical composition in a dramatic work such as for theater (Broadway, off-Broadway) or in a scripted show that has a plot and scenery. To obtain a license please

How do I obtain permission to sample a copyright?  top

SAMPLES agreements for the use of an original musical composition incorporated into a “new” composition can only be granted by the copyright owner. To request a sampling agreement For permission to use a recording, please contact the owner of the master which is usually the record company.

How do I know which company or organization to contact for a license or permission?  top

Mechanical: for USA and for Canada 



Performing (small rights):, or for more information

Grand Rights or Theatrical:


Master: record company or other owner of the recording




Do I need permission to record a copyrighted musical composition?  top

No, you do not need permission to record an unaltered copyrighted musical composition that has been previously recorded, however you do need a license to publicly sell and distribute the recording.

Do I need permission to write a lyric for a copyrighted musical composition?  top

Yes you do need permission. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to authorize or deny a lyric for an existing copyright. Contact

.  Please include the title and composer of the original composition, your information (name, address, phone number and email), a lyric sheet, recording if available, and any additional information you can provide. If your lyric is accepted, a lyricist agreement will be issued.

Do I need permission to write an arrangement of a copyrighted composition?  top

No, you do not need permission to write an arrangement of a copyrighted composition, but you do need a license to sell and distribute the work.

Do I need permission to perform a copyrighted musical composition?  top

Performing rights organizations grant licenses to television and radio stations, clubs, hotels, restaurants, stores and other public venues for the right to perform music. Permission to perform an unaltered copyrighted musical composition is usually not unnecessary, but if in doubt, contact the performing rights society or copyright owner.

Do schools and non-profit organizations need permission to reproduce or record copyrighted compositions?  top

Requests from schools and non-profit organizations (charities, non-profit arts organizations, etc.) asking permission to photocopy music for live performances such as a regional or national band contests, charity or other similar events should be submitted in writing to the copyright owner.


What does the term Most Favored Nations mean?  top

A Most Favored Nations clause in an agreement or a quote for a prospective agreement automatically entitles the copyright owner to the highest rate or most favorable terms negotiated for that product (such as in a folio or recording). This clause is a form of protection to the contracting party. The term derives from treaties between countries for the purpose of trade.

What is a sample?  top

Sampling is a portion of an original musical composition from a master recording incorporated into a “new” composition and recording. Sampling requires agreements from both the copyright owner of the musical composition and the master rights owner of the recording.

What are master rights?  top

A master is the recording from which copies are made by the manufacturer. Only the owner of the master, usually the record company, can grant the right to reproduce the recording in whole or in part (i.e. sample).

What are grand rights?  top

Grand Rights are the use of a musical composition for the public performance in a dramatic work such as for theater (Broadway, off-Broadway) or in a scripted show that has a plot and scenery and permission can only be obtained from the owner of the copyright.

What are small rights?  top

Performing rights organizations on behalf of the copyright owners license “small rights” for live or recorded music on radio, television, concerts, programmed music services, the internet and all other surveyed media.

What is a cue sheet?  top

It is a sequential list of the music used in a film or television show that includes the title, composer, publisher, timing and usage (background, theme, feature, etc.). Cue sheets are usually provided by the show’s producer to the performing rights societies or synchronization licensee.




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