Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


Vad Kushnir

First Page



Most motion pictures contain both original music composed specifically for a particular film and preexisting music (usually popular songs). In order to use preexisting music in a motion picture, the movie studio must obtain the appropriate music licenses from the copyright proprietors. The process of licensing music for use in a motion picture can potentially involve three different types of music licenses. First, the movie producer must obtain a "synchronization license," which will allow the producer to synchronize the musical work with the on-screen visual images and to use the licensed musical work as part of the motion picture in its exhibition in movie theaters or through television broadcasts. Second, the movie producer must secure a "videogram license," which allows the moviemaker to distribute copies of the motion picture incorporating the musical composition to the general public (i.e., to sell and/or rent DVDs and VHS cassettes). Frequently, the term "synchronization license" is loosely used in the entertainment industry to designate a single license that combines both the "true" synchronization license and the videogram license. Finally, should the movie studio wish to use a particular existing recording of the musical composition, it must negotiate a "master use" license, which allows the moviemaker to use the selected sound recording in the motion picture. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the main legal and practical aspects surrounding these three types of licenses.