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PPA Today: Copyright: June 2013 Archives

Copyright: June 2013 Archives

Music can set the mood for your photography business, whether it's setting the mood for a client's slideshow or setting the tone on your website. Musicians, much like photographers, only make a living doing what they love... if or when they receive the proper credit.

Remember the hubbub with Napster or LimeWire? People were sharing music files without having the right to do so. It's possible some of you might be currently breaking the same laws without even knowing it, and as photographers (and business owners) it means your rights are even more sensitive.

Think of it this way; when you give your client their images on a CD, they own the rights to the CD, but not to the photos. When you download an album on iTunes, you own the album, but not the rights to the music. This holds true for any audio file including MP3, .WAV, or other musical medium. Here are some quick tips to make sure you aren't violating any music licensing or copyright laws.

There are a few easy resources to use to help keep you on the music copyright straight and narrow:

We can also help you for your specific situation.

If you are like many photographers and want to combine copyrighted music with your images, you must obtain two different types of copyright licenses. Yes, two. First, you'll need a "master use" license which can be granted by the record label for use of the actual recording. Then, you'll need a "synchronization license" from the songwriter or music publisher to cover the use of the music in conjunction with images. (Sounds complicated, right? But don't worry; it's much easier than you might think, just read on!)

A few pieces of information to keep in mind: the music authors/owners are under no obligation to provide you with a license. The decision of whether or not to license a song (and how much to charge) always remains at the discretion of the copyright owner. Also, the licensing departments of these companies are geared primarily toward working with members of the motion picture and television industries, so be prepared to educate them regarding your particular use for and in your photography business. A little bit of explaining will go a long ways.

Here are the five steps involved in securing the appropriate music licenses:

  1. Finalize which song(s) you wish to use on your slide show or videos.

  2. Determine who owns the master use rights to each song (or songs) you will use. This is normally as simple as looking at the CD liner notes or at any online music service for the label information, such as iTunes. Contacts for the major labels are listed on the Music Licensing section of

  3. Next, find out who owns the synchronization rights to the musical composition you have your eyes (or ears?) set on. This will likely be a publishing company representing the songwriter. But if you don't find the liner notes from the CD or on iTunes, you can find that information by matching the song names with publishing companies on ASCAP's ACE database (, BMI ( or through the U.S. Copyright Office ( It takes a few minutes of manual labor, but you as a photographer understand more than anyone else the importance of that extra careful step.

  4. Contact the owners of both the master use and synchronization rights. In some cases, this will be the same company. You will need to explain your project and ask for the appropriate license. Expect questions regarding the number and geographical distribution of your project and be prepared to negotiate on price. It's not complicated, but takes putting a little bit of time into connecting with the right people.

  5. Sign the various licensing agreements and tender payment. Remember to keep copies for your records should any questions come up in the future and you are set!

If you (or your clients) are flexible with your musical selections, royalty free music is a very cost-efficient and time-saving alternative. There are many options out there, so unless you are set on a very specific piece, you can dive in and explore the musical horizons and pick and fancy at your leisure.

Last tip on this topic: remember to leverage your PPA Perks & Savings on music licenses (this is a PPA-member exclusive). You get access to great deals with a discounted rate on XM for Business, 20% off royalty-free music with Stock20 and 10% off songs with Triple Scoop Music, so... Enjoy! 

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Copyright category from June 2013.

Copyright: August 2012 is the previous archive.

Copyright: July 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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