I noticed some confusion or misunderstanding of copyright issues in some of the comments to Justin Bell’s recent post. So I thought I’d provide a quick overview in layman’s terms for those who might find it useful. Keep in mind I’m not a lawyer and I’m simply providing these as a simplified basic primer – I highly recommend consulting with an entertainment attorney whenever negotiating licenses.

There are several types of copyright that are of interest to those of us who create music or need to license it.

1. Master Rights – the right to authorize the use of a SPECIFIC RECORDING of a piece of music. One doesn’t have to own the rights to the composition in order to own the rights to the particular recording. Whenever you record anything, that recording is a MASTER, whether it’s an original work or a cover, arrangement or even just re-recording of an existing work. Typically a record label owns this copyright.

2. Publishing Rights – often referred to as sync rights, this is the right to authorize the use of a musical composition in an audio-visual production such as a film or TV show, regardless of which master they want to use. This refers to the underlying composition – the tune. The term sync comes from the process of synchronizing the work with the visuals. This is typically owned by a publisher.

3. Public Performance Rights – The right to authorize the performance (live or broadcast) of a piece of music in public. In other words, if someone wants to play your song/cue/concert piece in public (whether it’s a live performance or by broadcasting it via radio, TV, streaming etc.) they need permission to do so. The PROs (ASCAP/BMI/SESAC/GMR) issue this type of license on your behalf and collect royalties for those performances on your behalf.

4. Reproduction Rights – The right to reproduce a piece of music by making records, CDs, cassettes, etc. In the context of film/TV/Game scoring, this comes into play when creating soundtrack albums, by granting reproduction rights to a production you’re allowing them to make a soundtrack album. If you’re an artist and want to create your own cover of a song, or include an existing recording in your album you need to obtain what’s called a Mechanical License, which is what grants you permission to do so. Typically you can contact Harry Fox Agency who issues these licenses on behalf of most record companies.

5. Digital Performance Right in Sound Recording – Similar to reproduction rights, this is permission to digitally transmit a particular recording. Streaming services require a license for this right, which is handled by Sound Exchange and/or the Record Companies themselves.

6. Print Rights – The right to create and distribute sheet music.

7. Grand Rights – These basically apply to musicals or operas and are the rights to perform the songs within the context of the larger dramatic work. For example, if you wish to license “Tomorrow” from Annie and the character in the film/TV show is dressed as Annie or re-enacts the scene, you need a license for the grand rights. Typically the publisher can issue a license for this.

The most common two we deal with in the context of film/TV/Gaming are publishing & master rights.

As mentioned above, record labels and publishers issue various rights, but sometimes they use an administrator or sub-publisher who is authorized to issue license on their behalf. Again, whether you’re licensing your own music to a production, or need to obtain a license for a production I recommend consulting with an entertainment lawyer (and a music supervisor for the latter).

Hope this helps.