by Jeff and Todd Brabec
Most television producers do not have the resources to find out who owns the rights to the vast number of musical compositions that they may want to use in their productions.
Because the job of tracking down rights can be monumental (millions of songs are registered with ASCAP and BMI alone) and has been made even more difficult because of the reversion laws in many countries and an emerging trend toward multiple copyright owners of a single song, producers who do not have the finances for in-house staffs rely on a number of independent service organizations to assist them in their investigation, negotiation, and clearance of rights to use existing songs in television series.
Granted, producers can contact ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and the Harry Fox Agency for information on the ownership of selected compositions, but producers then have to follow up and negotiate licenses; a process than can be expensive and time-consuming.
Consequently, a large number of them use independent "clearance" organizations to fulfill this need.
The following section discusses a number of alternative ways of finding out who owns a song.
Independent Music Clearinghouses. A number of independent agencies represent certain television producers who do not have in-house researcher/negotiators.
These agencies' sole purpose is to find out who owns a song, explain how a song is to be used, and request (and many times negotiate) fee quotes for television sync licenses.
The television producer pays the fees for such research, negotiation, and licensing services on a per-show, per-song, or flat-fee series basis.
In-House Television Production Staffs. Many producers have personnel on staff to "clear" (i.e., get permission for a negotiated fee) existing outside music that will be used in a television program.
For example, most of the majors have in-house music-clearance departments, which negotiate the terms of synchronization licenses for outside music used in their series.
The Harry Fox Agency. At one time, many producers employed the services of the Harry Fox Agency, Inc., in New York for music clearance. In 2002, this service was discontinued.
Law Firms. On occasion, sync requests will be handled by attorneys or paralegals. Some of the major entertainment law firms now have separate departments (usually composed of paralegals) dealing with this area for the firm's television producer clients.
At one time, the licensing of music for television was a fairly straightforward and uncomplicated business.
In recent years, however, because of the many reversion laws in many countries, the need for a producer to secure options to extend its rights into new media, the potential inclusion of broadcast rights as part of the negotiation of the synchronization license, the somewhat complex determinations involved in the issue of who really owns the rights to license compositions, and the increasing trend of having 2 to 15 separate publisher owners of a song (many of which have no knowledge of the music industry), the business of licensing hit songs and famous standards has become extremely complex.
Consequently, the trend to use law firms and specialized clearance agencies to negotiate synchronization rights has continued to grow.