Music licensing for games

Music clearance for game developers and gamemusic producers.  Music consulting, music legal advice  and music contracts.

Copyrights, publishing rights, master rights.

Master Use & Sync License


master rightsMaster Rights

Master rights or recording rights are the intellectual properties of the sound recording: the actual musical performance captured on the master tape. It is important to distinguish between the sound recording (master rights) and the underlying music work (publishing rights). Publishing rights are not related to the artists performing on the actual sound recording of a particular song. A master license gives the game studio the right to use a particular recorded version of a song in their game. Besides a master use license, a synchronization license needs to be obtained from the owner of the underlying musical work (the chords, melody and lyrics of the song itself) to clear the publishing rights. Depending on the nature of the music, a master use & sync license needs to be signed.

Since a number of different people are involved in the creation of a master, getting the necessary clearances can be a challenge. Besides that, if a recording is signed to multiple record companies accross the world, you may need to acquire a master use license from different labels in different continents.

In some cases, a musical arrangement needs to be cleared seperately from the original (dramatic) musical composition. Think The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony versus The Rolling Stones. Note that in this situation, clearing only the arrangement is not enough - permission to use the original (non-public domain) work must also be gained! Note that when using for instance an official Youtube video in game, the video rights also need to be cleared with the owner of these rights, usually the record label.

In most cases, either the record company or the producer is the owner of the master rights (another name is phonographic rights). The owners of the sound recording copyrights are entitled to earn royalties from the use of the sound recording, when their song is player on the radio, used in a film or a game. A master use license is generally required from the owner of the master rights to reproduce and ditribute a game containing a specific sound recording. The game studio must contact the label or the producer to get the necessary clearance.

Don't forget about the actual performances by musicians and/or the artist. Also, residual fees such as union payments for session musicians are often ignored. Generally, these musicians get a flat ''work made for hire'' fee, but sometimes, the terms of the music contracts between the record company, the producer and the musicians (or their country of origin), payments are due. Make sure to check this beforehand with the owners of the master rights, to avoid being confronted with higher and unexpected costs afterwards.

Dealing with controlled compositions (songs both written and produced by a single person, often electronic music) can simplify the music clearance process because the necessary rights generally belong to just one person. It is common industry practice to license one song at a time.

When recording and using a cover song i.e. using your own version of a particual song a master use license is not needed: since you, the game developer, are not using a copyrighted master tape owned by somebody else, just a sync license is enough to clear the (publishing) rights on the underlying musical work. So using covers helps when you're on a tight budget.

For more information about master rights, music consulting, important exceptions, differences in jurisdiction, public domain issues, our services and rates email  or contact without obligation.


Legal news, views, updates and headlines: