The Trouble With Music Licensing

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(By Casey Franco) Ask any audio editor or producer who’s ever worked with music in the podcasting space and they’ll tell you the same thing: it’s a pain to find good music you’re actually allowed to use.

Usually you have to go one of two routes, cheap and royalty free or good and expensive.

Here’s the root of the problem, the music industry loves money. PodcastMusic.com is trying to rectify that issue. By partnering with Soundexchange, they think they’ve built a powerful tool go get music rights in the hands of podcasters who need them. Before we delve into that, let’s take a look at the music / podcast dynamic in the landscape right now.

The major issue is antiquated copyright laws. Experts say the legal sets are about 20 years too old. Most copyright laws were written over 100 years ago. As a podcaster you need a “mechanical” rights to music in order to use them, for example. This term gets its name from mechanical piano rolls from the early 1900’s.

Updating these laws require an act of congress. New laws like the MMA don’t address podcasting. Plus there’s a myriad of international law issues. Basically, podcasts exist in a very weird, fast moving space which makes them very hard to legislate for.

In a song there are two copyrights. Composition rights include the lyrics created by the composers and are usually denoted by a small c in a circle. The other type of rights are to the recording itself. If a studio records a song, they own the music itself. That is usually denoted by a small p inside a circle. To use music in a podcast, you need the rights to reproduce copy written work and to make it into a derivative work.

You also need the rights to use the master recording from the record label. All these documents must be contained within a license that outlines which platforms the work can be published on.

Assuming the RSS technology isn’t going away anytime soon, the solution to this complexity is going to need to thread a lot of needles. What is the correct way to license music? If someone gives you permission to use their music, that’s great but you need to get it in writing. When possible, secure performance rights. Work with professional music distributors and beware of music online advertising itself as “free.”

The safest solution is to work with music producers that are licensed for podcasts. Stay clear of most pop music. Keep in mind that an average copyright violation could hit you with a $150,000 fee.

It’s a good idea to also keep a copy of your multitrack at all times in case your show is taken down for copyright violations. The 5, 10, and 15 second rules are myths. In a couple months, PodcastMusic.com is releasing an artist submission tool.

If you have an artist you’d really like to work with, steer them towards this tool and they can get legally sound licensing and you can clean your hands of music hassle.

Casey Franco can be reached by e-mail at caseyfranco@me.com

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