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Music & Film - Music Licences & Music Assignments

Controlling how your music is played

Music Licences

Once you own a piece of music you can lend it or sell it as you would any other property. Artists will own the music that they make unless they assign it to someone else, such as a record label or music publisher. Music licences effectively allow the copyright owner to lend the music to someone else in exchange for a licence fee.


There are a number of different issues that need to be considered when thinking about the type of music licence that you may need – but they need not cause you too much hassle, as we are on hand to advise you as to the best route you should take.


One of the most important decisions is whether the licence will be exclusive or non-exclusive. An exclusive licence means that you are lending your music to one person or company only – you are granting them the right to use your music on an exclusive basis. A non-exclusive licence means that you are lending your music to a person or company, but are reserving the right to lend the music to other third parties too.


For example, an exclusive licence might best be used when you have written a piece of music specifically for someone else to use, but you wish to maintain your ownership of it. A non-exclusive licence, on the other hand, may best be used where you have written a track to be used on a compilation album released by a third party record label – you still want to be able to use that track on your own album later on!


Once you have decided as to the exclusivity of the licence, there are a few more things that you may wish to consider:

  • The length of the licence period
  • The amount of the licence fee and how it is to be paid
  • Licensee’s permissions
  • Warranties
  • Indemnities
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Royalties
  • Termination


We will be happy to draft or advise on these to ensure that all aspects are covered, and to ensure that the intellectual property rights have been exploited in accordance with your requirements.


Music Assignments

If you are happy to sell a piece of music or track you have written to someone else, then you are probably looking to have an assignment put in place. An assignment is a specially worded document that cements the sale of intellectual property to someone else – in this case the copyright in the music you wish to sell.


Once a valid assignment of the copyright in a piece of music takes place, it means that you will no longer own it. Assignments usually are in exchange for a fixed amount, and are typically used when you have created a bespoke piece of music for someone else to use.


Things can get a little complicated here though, as there are two types of rights when it comes to copyright in the UK – economic rights and moral rights. Economic rights can be considered as being attached to the work, whereas moral rights can be considered as being attached to the author of the work. In the UK, only economic rights can legally be the subject of an assignment, and accordingly, the wording of any assignment in a piece of music must not purport to assign any moral rights.


We appreciate that some musicians or record labels may need some help understanding these issues – we will be happy to explain in further detail the difference between economic rights and moral rights, as well as to how a music assignment might work best in your circumstances.

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