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Movie Sync

Posted: Sun Jul 03, 2022 3:22 pm
by Budgie1952
Hi there.

I am a trustee of a UK charity which has inherited the IP of a composer who died recently.

The composer wrote a song about 15 years ago, and produced a recording of it which he exclusively licensed to a record company, along with a number of other songs. The record company released the songs on a CD and is paying ongoing royalties to the charity via the composer’s estate. Royalties are also being collected by PPL and PRS/MCPS.

A film producer wants to use the song from the CD in a movie, and has agreed a sync fee with the record company. As the owner of the composer’s intellectual property, does the charity also have to grant permission for this audio recording to be used in the movie? Or is that entirely within the gift of the record company.

Thanks in advance.

Re: Movie Sync

Posted: Sun Jul 03, 2022 7:45 pm
by AndyJ
Hi budgie,

The answer is yes, the composer's estate does have to agree to the sync rights, but the key to the puzzle will/ought to lie in the wording of the exclusive licence the composer granted to the record company.

As I read your explanation the composer was the producer of the recording and this makes him the owner of the copyright in the recording (the so-called master rights) as well as the owner of the copyright in the lyrics and music of the song (the composition rights). From that I would expect that all that the record company has licensed is the right to market the recording. Because this is an exclusive licence no-one else may exploit the recording for the duration of the licence including the copyright owner. However using the recording for a film sound track is a different right to issuing so-called mechanical copies (vinyl or CDs in old tech speak). These different rights are called sync (synchronisation) rights, as you mention, and they would not ordinarily form part of a mechanical rights licence and so would be retained by the producer of the recording. Things would be different if the record company had also been the producer of the recording as they would be the first owner of the sync rights in the recording. But even if the record company's licence does, for some strange reason, transfer the sync rights in the master to them, the sync right attached to the composition remain with the composer's heirs.

Hopefully the licence will have been drawn up by a music lawyer who was not working for the record company, as this makes it more likely that the sync right would have been expressly retained by the composer/record producer.

PRS for Music don't get involved in sync rights and the fees tend to be negotiated on a case by case basis. There are some agreed rates for Musicians Union members, but since they may well not be involved here you may need to consult a music lawyer to get the best deal. More information on this aspect here

I hope this answers your question.

Re: Movie Sync

Posted: Wed Jul 27, 2022 7:44 am
by Budgie1952
Hi Andy

Thanks for your reply, which I've only just seen since I didn't have email notifications turned on.

From what I can establish the record company has the master rights under an exclusive (not in perpetuity) licence, and the composer retained the composition rights. I can see from past statements that the record company has sold other syncs, paying 50% of their fee to the composer (presumably as he was the record producer).

So just to wrap this up, the record company did sell the master sync rights for this song (we will get 50% of this in due course), and we have also sold the composition rights for an equal fee. So we will ultimately receive £75% of the total for for the sync, which I am quite happy with.

Thanks also for the link - that was very useful and explained a lot, particularly how lucrative syncs can be compared to regular mechanical royalties.