music clearance frequently asked questions






Music clearance is a process consisting of:

  • Determining what permissions are needed

  • Discover the owner(s) of the music. ( use music research links)

  • Contacting owners and negotiating an appropriate license and fee

  • Arranging written agreements for clearance

Through notes we communicate emotions.  Music can calm the savage beast and invoke memories of long ago.  Music is powerful if not the most powerful form of communication that exists around the world.


How Do I Copyright my material?

Like most things of significance, society has adopted laws to protect the interests of music rights owners.  The best known of these protections is copyright law, which regards music as a property right, just like real estate. Musicians who have created music and have not copyrighted their material should visit this link UNITED STATES COPYRIGHT OFFICE  

The owners of this property (known as intellectual property) in the world of music are publishers and record companies, who have the authority to control and grant uses of their music. 

Once music is published, there is sometimes an interest by an outside 3rd party to use it for a secondary purposes, such as: advertising, commercial, compilation album, film, radio or internet site. Music copyright owners can control permission for these uses by means of licenses.

If a desired piece of music is owned by a publisher or record company, you must obtain permission by them before using their work.

Do I need music clearance?

Clearance is required if you plan to use music for a purpose restricted under copyright law, including:

  • Making copies of the music
  • Sale through distribution or internet download
  • Performing the music publicly

When is music clearance is not required? 


  • The musical work is in the public domain
  • Live performance of music
  • Live performance of music in the context of a religious service or other place of worship
  • Use of music in face-to-face classroom teaching;
  • Excerpting a limited portion of music for purposes of review or criticism.
  • You recorded a public performance

The US copyright law includes provisions for fair use, which allows that copyright owners do not always control every use of protected material. To the dismay of many, the law does not set out exactly what a fair use is, leaving it to be worked out between copyright owners, users and the courts.

Can you go to jail for clearance

Not really.

This site can help you get your music copyrighted and cleared for soundtrack compilations, commercials, internet sites, and motion pictures.  We represent some of the best producers in TV, digital video, commercials and in motion pictures, and we maintain strong relationships with major labels.  Use this site as your informational help guide.


Contact the Publisher.

In the past, music clearance was considered a "one phone call" done deal. Many lawyers and companies charge ridiculous prices on contracts that the music companies and their agents or representatives will provide. Yes this means that you do not really need any outside help.   Musicians can be found through our music research links.  Also musicians and their agents can be contacted usually through the Screen Actors Guild.  The type of license required for using music in visual media is called a synchronization license, it permits recorded music in "synchronization or timed relation" with a moving image.

Can you use a little music for free?

In order to obtain permission to use a song or recording in a TV show or motion picture you must ask the music publisher.  Producers must clear synchronization rights. The copyright law gives the creator or copyright owner absolute authority to grant these rights, therefore the process is completely negotiable.  If the musicians need exposure or have a dedicated interest in your project it is not unlikely for them to negotiate in your favor.  Good luck!

Such A Deal!

Contact the agents and managers of the musicians of whose music you want to use. You will find that they are ready to help you!  If you have any problems E-mail us at productionclips@hotmail.com   or 
Give us a call at (310) 403-4467.



Public Domain (or PD, for short) is probably the most controversial and misunderstood topics in copyright, with enough contention and debate to fill several doctoral theses. Here are the highlights:

What is the PD?: What cannot be claimed as private property under copyright law is considered to be public domain. Therefore, a public domain work has to be defined by the protections that no longer cover it. Since these protections are in flux, extreme care must be taken before claiming something is in the public domain.

United States Copyright law, as of 1976, sets public domain at 50 years after the death of the last surviving author, but this only pertains to works created after 1978. In reality, we are still very much in the era of the 1909 law, which protects works up to 75 years from date of publication. The protections of the 1909 law will therefore be with us through the year 2052. Further, keep in mind that the US law is only valid in the United States; if you are concerned with foreign uses, read on.

In territories outside the US, The Berne Convention (which dates back to 1886, but which the United States did not join until May 1, 1989) set protection at 50 years from the death of the last surviving author. While most countries followed this convention, in 1995, the members of the European Economic Community passed an initiative to extend copyright to 70 years. Some countries, notably Italy, are claiming additional protection on works of their national composers (i.e. Verdi, Puccini), pushing the term to 85 years.

Determining the Public Domain status  

In the United States; simply add 75 years to the original date of publication.

Determining Public Domain outside the United States is a more complex proposition, because it requires both knowledge of the complete authorship of a work, plus confirmation all the authorís death dates.

Public Domain issues

Protected Editions. The source, as well as the work, must both be in the public domain prior to use.

Protected Musical Arrangements. The folksong "Mary had a little lamb" is public domain. If any artist recorded it tomorrow it would be protected.

Recordings: Beethoven is in the Worldwide public domain, but taking music from a brand-new performance infringes the copyright of the publisher and owner.

Using US Public Domain works abroad. Just because it was recorded in 1920 does not make it legal.  Many works are public domain in the United States by virtue of their publication dates, but protected abroad because of the authorís death date. Works can be protected 50 years past the death date of an artist.


Founded in 1965 in Tokyo, Japan.  Kawaii Music started as an independent record label.  Through the 70's and 80's we specialized in the distribution of music to Asia.  Founded in 1993, in the United States KMP, INC. produces music in motion pictures, music videos, television, home video and multimedia. We serve a diverse client roster, including: ABC, ABC cap-cities radio, the Coca-Cola company, independent artists, directors, Sony Music Entertainment, Paramount, HBO and other major broadcast networks and local advertising agencies.  

SANCO is the registered publishing company of ASCAP and operates an extensive, self-loading database of song ownership and has tracked the performance of copyright owners for over 12 years in the united states. 

Chris Sanders he is the head of music for Kawaii Music Productions. A composer/publisher member of The American Society of Composers, Authors And Publishers, and C.E.O. of Sanco Operating Publishing Company.
Nobuo Egawa is the head of KMP, Japan.


Copyright Law refers to a body of national and state laws, provisions of international treaties (such as the Berne Convention and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), as well as customary business practices surrounding use of intellectual property.

In the US, music is protected under the Copyright Act of 1976. This law provides protection for songs and other musical works, as well as sound recordings of those works.

The law grants copyright owners the exclusive right to do and authorize any of the following:

Reproduce the copyrighted work in copies (see Recording Rights);

Prepare derivative works based on upon the copyrighted work (see Adaptation Rights);

Distribute copies or records of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending (see Reproduction Rights);

In the case of music (as well as other protected intellectual property), perform the copyrighted work publicly (see Public Performance Rights);


Song copyrights are held by music publishers, while sound recordings are controlled by record companies.

Songwriter, Composer, Lyricist is a person who composes music or writes song melodies or lyrics.  If the music is well known, chances are that their copyright is held by a music publisher.

A Music Publisher is an entity that owns or controls the copyright to a song or musical work and represents its business interests. Publishers often represent songwriters and hold exclusive rights to their works.  

Recording Artist is a person or group who performs a song or musical work on a sound recording.

Record Company refers to a party who owns or controls a sound recording. This is often a well-known label like Sony Music or Kawaii Music, but could really be anyone who holds rights to an important recording

Song (a/k/a Musical Work, Melody or Lyric: A © copyright, which applies to musical compositions and/or lyrics. Songs and musical works are protected separately from the records and CDs on which we find them (to learn why, see sound recordings). When written, they are controlled by the composer and/or lyricist, but song copyrights are usually transferred to a music publisher once the work is released on record or otherwise published.

In the US, the words and music of a song are protected an indivisible whole, unless each was written and registered for copyright separately prior to creation of the song.

Sound Recording (a/k/a record, CD : The (P) in copyright, this is a performance of a song or musical work on fixed, reproducible media. Remember, the owner of a sound recording does not grant any rights to the underlying music Ė  just because they (you) recorded a cover song does not mean you own the work. Royalty payments apply per copy distributed to the owner of the work.  Example:  If you re-record the Beetle's song "We all live in a yellow submarine" you would have to pay Michael Jackson royalties for every copy you distribute. Why?  Because the Beatles sold their rights to him.  He owns the music.  If the work is in the Public Domain then it is yours.

You don't need permission to remake existing songs.  This circumstance will depend on your version of the song and if it can be classified as a new work.  Hip Hop artists have remade several hundreds of songs lately that have been classified as new works because of the change in performance and note progression changes.  A cover tune requires permission.  Check out Mechanical Rights.

Record companies usually own sound recordings, and using requires licensing master rights.  Some songs are very easy to acquire and some are almost impossible.  Choose wisely.


Music uses are granted under the four major categories accorded under copyright law:

1.) Adaptation of a song
2.) Recording
3.) Reproduction
4.) Public Performance

Adaptation Rights

These rights pertain to the creation of derivative works from an existing music copyright, but are often tied to other types of licenses.

While anyone is free to create a new arrangement of an existing song, trying to exploit that arrangement without a license (i.e. on records, sheet music, or as part of a broadcast or commercial could draw an infringement claim from the publisher.

Publishers will usually include the right to make arrangements in a mechanical license or synchronization license, provided the publisher receives full ownership of any arrangement created.

Some types of sampling also qualify as arrangements.

Synchronization Rights: The permission needed to record songs, music or lyrics in films or other visual media. Under this license you can play the music yourself (provided you donít rewrite the words or "alter the "fundamental character of the music" Ė see parody).

Master Rights: The permission needed to use sound recordings in other media. in films or other visual media. Usually held by a record company; Master rights are worthless unless you also have synchronization rights to the underlying song.

Mechanical Right: The permission to make a audio-only, sound recording of song or musical work. Mechanical rights applies to audio media only, and excludes film, TV or multimedia. 

Compulsory Mechanical License:  Allows you to make a sound recording without having to contact the copyright owner, provided you do not change the words or fundamental character of the music, accordingly you pay a statutory mechanical rate.

ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are public performance rights organizations who collect royalties for music and distributes payments accordingly to the proper publisher or owner.  They regulate public places such as: radio stations, restaurants , cable radio, and even stadiums.  The organizations also provide legal protection in cases regarding infringements on publishers rights.  They work hard to protect the  interests of composers, lyricists and music publishers.  Together, these three organizations regulate the United States.

Music Clearance for Visual Media

The type of license required for using music in visual media is called a synchronization license, because it permits recording music in "synchronization or timed relation" with a moving image.

The US copyright act distinguishes between recorded music mixed in with visual media.  Congress gave copyright owners the absolute and exclusive authority to permit, set costs for, or prohibit visual uses with music, because they can transform the meanings of songs.


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