Sync license and how it works

Have you ever heard a song in a movie, a documentary or a video game and wondered how is it possible in terms of copyright? What is the process, who decides or what benefits does it have for the artist? If so, you will be glad to know that all these questions have the same answer: the sync license, the protagonist of this new article. Let’s go step by step.


What is a sync license?

A sync license allows you to synchronize music in television shows, movies, documentaries, commercials, video games, YouTube videos, etc. In short, any product in which music and moving images are used simultaneously must have this license.

There is only one type of sync license and it is only applicable to songs that existed prior to the audiovisual product. In other words, a song that is created ad hoc for a movie, a series or a video game is not subject to this regulation.

There is no single path to a sync license. This is where the figure of the music supervisor is relevant, the person in charge of all the music that is part of a film, a documentary, an advertisement, etc. This professional can choose a track and contact the owners of that song directly. Or they can turn to music libraries or licensing companies.


How is the process for getting a sync license?

There are no laws or regulations that establish the parameters and fees for synchronization licenses. It is an agreement between parties: on the one hand, the holders of the rights and, on the other, the potential users. And although everything is open to negotiation, it is true that there are some mandatory requirements.

For a sync license to be effective, there must be permission from two different owners: the owners of the master and the owners of the publishing. Let us remember that the composition of a song and its interpretation are two different things. In this way, through a synchronization license, both the composer / publisher and the owner of the rights to the original recording receive a commission. To avoid any type of disadvantage by any of the parties, the MFN (Most Favored Nation) clause applies. This clause dictates that if either party is offered a higher amount, the other party must receive exactly the same. That is, both owning parties must receive the same amount.

It may be the case that the owner of masters and publishing is the same, something quite common if we talk about independent artists. In this case, the agreement will be simpler as it is joint, but the independence of the two commissions must be maintained.


What are the benefits of a sync license?

  1. Source of income: assets and liabilities. Assets for the monetary agreement that is derived directly from the sync license. Liabilities because the theme itself, in addition to the sync license, generates earnings from royalties. In the case of execution royalties, it will depend on the regulations of each country. It is very important, therefore, to have a company that takes care of making sure that the percentage that belongs to it is received. Do not forget the mechanical royalties in the event that, for example, the song is included in a soundtrack and is available on digital platforms or for sale.

  2. Popularity: the inclusion of a song in a movie, an advertisement, a video game or a YouTube video ensures visibility. Today almost all of us have discovered a song or an artist through these means. For an artist who has just started, it can be a very important boost in their career. And for an established artist, it can give legitimacy and solidity.


5 tips when signing a sync license

  • Pay special attention to royalties and their treatment within the agreement.

  • Know how exactly the song is going to be used within the audiovisual product. This includes both the format (recording, performance, background…) as well as the duration and number of uses.

  • Negotiate based on the nature of the song itself: if it is unpublished, if it already is a successful track, etc.

  • Determine exactly in which territories the synchronization license has legitimacy, as well as its duration.

  • Keep in mind if the song is going to be used as the main musical theme and as the title of the audiovisual piece.