Knowledge Base Article: KB2395
Topic: FAQ - Site Usage and Commerce Questions

Title: FAQ About Public Domain Music Use in Films

Last Reviewed: Jan 30, 2012

Q.  I am currently in post production of a film and looking for music that is in the public domain that i can use. It has to recognized as "public domain" internationally as I plan on submitting my film to festivals all over the U.S., Canada and Europe. Are all songs on your site applicable? If not, can you tell me specifically which ones are?

A.  You are misunderstanding the concept of public domain ("PD") music.  First lets cover some background and terminology, and then we'll proceed to answer your specific concerns in more detail.  

Q.  What Is Public Domain Music?  

A.  What public domain means, in a nutshell, is that the original composer(s) of the composition (note I'll use the word "composition" interchangeably with "song" here) has been dead long enough that nobody controls the publishing on the song any more.  In other words, the composition is no longer under the exclusive licensing control of anybody.  So essentially, any music artist can now record their own version of the song without having to license the song from anybody, or pay anybody as they sell or license their version of the song to some third party.  

Q.  What Is a Master Recording?  

A.  The music artist that records their version of the song always owns their version of the song (e.g. their recording, or their "master recording" as it is often called), since they recorded it, and it is their intellectual property and they own the copyright to their recording of the song.  But they do not own the underlying composition.  Nobody owns the underlying composition, since it is in the "public domain".  Since nobody owns the composition and it is in the public domain, the music artist can license their version (e.g. their recording) of the song to anybody they wish to, and nobody can restrict them from doing so, and the music artist does not have to pay any publisher for use of the composition, since no publisher owns it or controls it.

Q.  Every Song Has Two Halves?

A.  It can be said that every recorded song has "two halves".  The two halves of a song are 1) the underlying composition (in the music business, this is often called "the publishing") and 2) the actual recording of the composition (often called "the master").  Every song, whether it is public domain or not, has these two halves.  The two halves together are often called a "work", or "musical work".

Q.  Can Films Only Use Public Domain Music?  

A.  The answer is a resounding "NO!".  Films can use any song in the world, as long as both halves of the song are duly licensed.  For public domain songs, only the master recording itself must be licensed, since the composition (or "publishing") is not controlled by anybody, hence does not need to be licensed.  For non-public domain songs, both the publishing and master recording must be licensed in order to use the song in a film.  For all of the music available for license here at AudioSparx, when you purchase a license you are licensing both the publishing and the master recording (or just the master recording in the case of public domain songs).

Q.  But What Type of License Is Needed?  

A.  Generally, for film production, it is preferable for the film producer to purchase a royalty-free buyout license, so that only a one-time up-front license fee must be paid in exchange for the rights to use the song in all media, worldwide, in perpetuity.  Such a license for any song (including both the publishing and master, or just the master for public domain songs) will give you the full rights you need to use that song in your film, and play it anywhere in the world, and even manufacture DVDs to sell, or play it on TV, or the Internet, or otherwise exploit the film in any way whatsoever.  

Common exceptions to this are that such a license does not generally allow you to resell the music itself, or to add lyrics to the song and sell the song as your own, since the recording is still owned by the music artist and/or their publisher.

Q.  Can I Purchase Such a License at AudioSparx?  

A. Generally yes.  The vast majority of music tracks available for sale at AudioSparx have an option to purchase either a limited license or an unlimited license.  The limited license option is generally not ideal for film production work, although can work just fine if the film is being released or displayed in a limited way (say only for film festivals, or only in one particular country, for instance.  For more significant, higher-budget films with broad distribution, the unlimited license (e.g. the royalty-free buyout license discussed above) is ideal.  Naturally, the unlimited license is more expensive than the limited license, since it provides more rights, and for a broader scope of use.

If for some reason the track you select does not have an option on the site to purchase an unlimited license, please submit a support request here or call us on the phone at +1 (954)-791-9795 to discuss the track and we will let you know what the various options are.

Q.  How Do I Purchase an Unlimited License at AudioSparx?  

A.  Register on the site to create your client account and then login to the site.  Then search or browse around the site and listen to the music.  When you find a track you like, click the shopping cart icon for it to add it to your shopping cart.  On the first screen that appears, select the "Motion Picture" option, and continue forward.  On the subsequent screen you can either configure the parameters for a limited license, or at the bottom, select the option for the unlimited license.  Then continue forward and the price for the option(s) you selected will be displayed.

Q.  The Price Displayed Exceeds My Price Budget.  What Can I Do?  

A.  Here at AudioSparx we hate to lose business, and we love to wheel and deal to try to help you get the music you want for your project, and for our music artists to make a sale.  So, on the screen that displays the price, you will see a link to a form where you can easily request a price discount.  On the form, explain briefly how you intend to use the track.  Often there are mitigating circumstances about a production that warrant a substantial discount from list price.  Please give us a chance to review the details of your project, and the specific track, and to try to work out viable price that will be accommodating for your budget.  

Q.  Will My Discount Request Be Accepted?  

A.  Every artist that sells their music here sets their own pricing for each track, hence pricing varies a lot from track to track and from artist to artist.  Some artists are more flexible than others when it comes to discounting.  So we will review the specifics of your request, and review the artist's stated preferences insofar as pricing issues are concerned, and then we will either accept your discount request at the price level you requested, or we will make a counter-offer at a higher price than your requested, that is in line with what the artist permits for discounting.

Q.  What Happens Next?  

A.  We will email you back quickly and, hopefully, with good news and then you can proceed forward to complete payment, and then download the track(s) you purchased from your Download Zone here, and proceed to integrate them into your film production.  You can also download the license agreement for each track from your Download Zone (click the L icon to download the license in PDF format).

If you have any further questions or need additional clarification about any of these issues, please don't hesitate to submit a support request here or call us on the phone at +1 (954)-791-9795.


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