Copyright Licensing

Although all intellectual property license include a defined scope of use, typically in terms of geography and field of use, copyright licenses narrow the scope of permitted uses into a number of smaller fragments.


This website is intended to provide general information on the protection of intellectual property, and not legal advice for any specific situation. Every situation is unique, and no website can possibly consider the unique aspects of every situation, or provide the proper advice for each situation. I therefore encourage you to contact me to evaluate your specific situation and goals, and to determine the best way to enforce your copyrights or to avoid liability for copyright infringement.

Types of Copyright Licensing

Mechanical License

Making and distributing copies of a copyrighted work requires a mechanical license. A mechanical license also permits the licensee to record and distribute their own version of the work, for example, the licensee singing a song. A mechanical license only permits reproduction of the copyrighted work, and not modification of the work.

Compulsory License for Making and Distributing Music

If the copyright holder has made and distributed copies of the music, then a statutory compulsory license permits others to make and distribute copies of that music, provided that notice is given to the copyright holder and the required royalties are paid. Royalty rates are set by the Copyright Royalty Board of the Copyright Office. For physical and digital copies of a musical work, hat royalty is currently the larger of 12.4 cents per copy of each song or 2.38 cents per minute of playing time or fraction of a minute of playing time. The current royalty rate for ringtones is 24 cents per copy of a ringtone.

Performance License

Performing a copyrighted work during a live performance, through a radio or television broadcast, or through a digital streaming service requires a performance license. A performance license is also necessary to play music or display television programs within a business, as well as any other broadcast or display of the work in a public space.

Theatrical License

A theatrical license is a specific type of performance license permitting performance of the licensed work on stage with an audience.

Print License

Distributing printed or digital copies of sheet music or other written forms of a copyrighted work requires a print license.

Synchronization License

Synchronizing a musical composition to visual images within an audiovisual work such as a movie in a timed relationship requires a synchronization license.

Obtaining Music Licenses

In addition to contacting copyright holders directly, music licenses can be obtained from the following organizations. Such licenses are particularly useful for businesses which play a wide variety of music in their facilities. The list below is not intended to be a complete list of licensing services.

Obtaining Performance Licenses

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

SESAC (originally Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)

Sound Exchange (licenses for digital streaming)

Obtaining Mechanical Licenses

Harry Fox Agency

Intellectual property licensing is a complex subject. Ensuring that you have the rights you need now will prevent expensive disputes later. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your questions.