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Topic: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

  1. #1

    OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Since there's a lot of professional film composers out there, this is the perfect place to ask this.

    My license agreement currently states that I own the master rights to all music that I write for a film and I give the film company sync rights.

    However, I'm currently trying to wrap up a film scoring deal with a film company I've never worked with before and their agreement states the following:

    Ownership of Written Music:
    The owner of the final written music used in the Picture that is written by Composer will be ABC Productions. ABC Productions will own 100% of all worldwide master rights to all music written by Mark D’Errico that is used in the Picture.

    Ownership of Recording:
    The owner of the final recorded score used in the Picture that is written by Composer will be Mark D’Errico. Mark D’Errico will own 100% of all worldwide master rights to the recorded score for the Picture.

    Copyright Considerations:
    The Producer is the author at law and owns all right, title, and interest in and to the Recording which are the results of Composer’s services rendered in connection therewith (all of which shall be considered as a "work-made-for-hire," specially commissioned by Producer as part of an audiovisual work), including without limitation all copyrights and renewals and extensions of copyrights therein.

    To me, that seems completely backwards. So I did a quick search on the net and found the following:

    Ownership of Sound Recordings:
    The owner of the final sound recordings for all music used in the Film will be CalvinWorks Publishing (ASCAP). CalvinWorks Publishing will own 100% of all worldwide master rights to all music written by Calvin Composer used in the Film.

    Composer hereby acknowledges and agrees that the Score and all other results and proceeds of Composer's services (collectively, "Work") hereunder have been specially ordered or commissioned by Producer for use as part of the Picture, that the Score shall constitute a "work-made-for-hire'' as defined in the United States Copyright Act of 1976, that Producer shall be the author of said work-made-for-hire and the owner of all rights in and to the Work, in accordance with the terms and conditions herein contained, including, without limitation, the copyrights therein and thereto, throughout the universe in perpetuity.

    Ownership of the Copyright. ...
    it is not unusual to see in the contract the inclusion of phrases such as "all other rights of any nature whatsoever," "perpetual and unlimited rights," or "any rights throughout the entire universe whether now or hereafter existing".

    Practically all composer underscore agreements are employee-for-hire or work-made-for-hire agreements; that is, the musical score is created at the specific request of and under the direct supervision of the film producer. For the all-inclusive composing and services fee, the composer "grants to the producer all rights, title, and interest throughout the world in perpetuity, in and to the work and the recordings." By this grant, the producer owns the worldwide copyright for the entire term of copyright protection. The typical grant-of-rights provision signed by composers gives the studio the exclusive right to publish the composition, to make and sell sound recordings, to execute all licenses regarding the use of the work, to change the work, to combine the work with other works, and to transmit the work by any means now available or to be available in the future. This clause is normally of the broadest nature possible, and it is not unusual to see in the contract the inclusion of phrases such as "all other rights of any nature whatsoever," "perpetual and unlimited rights," or "any rights throughout the entire universe whether now or hereafter existing".

    Under an employee-for-hire contract ("work for hire"), the producer (normally the movie studio or production company) becomes the author pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Law. Any specific rights to the music that the composer may retain must be stated in writing and signed by all parties. The duration of copyright protection for "works for hire" created on or after January 1, 1978 is 120 years from the year of creation or 95 years from the year of publication, whichever is shorter. The copyright duration for other types of works written on or after January 1, 1978 is life of the author(s) plus 70 years. Through this grant, the studio becomes the owner of all rights of copyright and is usually free to assign or license those rights to others.

    I know I shouldn't give up master rights to the music I write, so who's right? My understanding is that I maintain master rights and I give them sync rights.

    This film company is NOT trying to rip me off. We're actually working together to come up with an agreement that is 100% fair to both of us, that we're both happy with, and that distributors won't shy away from.

    Do any of you guys have a sample agreement that you could send me? Or opinions? I'm only concerned with who owns the music...that's the only issue.

    Thanks so much!

  2. #2

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Usually when I do a film score it's work for hire. That means that you give up the ownership of the master and sync rights. The company that hires you owns these.

    You should absolutely keep the composers share of royalties and sometimes you can negotiate to keep publishing rights but not usually with TV.

    If it's a song though I'd only let them have the sync rights and give them permission to use the master in anything they want but I wouldn't give up ownership of the master or publishing shares.

    If you have an agent let them worry about the negotiating though. If you're doing it yourself just try not to put yourself in a position where you're giving your music away that you already own. But, if they're hiring you to do something new consider it a work for hire situation and charge for your services, because when its all over legally the music won't be yours.

    hope this helps,


  3. #3
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    I suggest you get a good entertainment attorney to do this for you. Unless you are really good at the legalese, you can introduce ambiguities that will hurt you in the long run.

    It is nice that the negotiations are amicable. I'm sure they have a legal team, though, and that their lawyers will set up the contract to their best advantage unless you are represented. I think you can insert an attorney into the picture without upsetting that balance if you frame it as a mea culpa, and say something to the effect that you've gotten over your head in the process and you don't want to hold everyone up while you attempt to understand it all.

    It is in your best interest to own as much of all the various rights to the work as possible. I think it is always good to go into these things with a bit of a God complex (keep it to yourself, haha). Consider 100% of everything yours, and let go of things in the smallest possible increments until they agree to sign the contract and start writing checks.

    Try to get out with as much of your publishing rights as you can, in case you find some opportunities cropping up down the line.

    It is reasonable for the producers to own the recorded version of the work they paid for, affixed to their product. However, if you paid for the production and it was not specifically funded, then you may have some potential ownership there, too. Complete ownership, in fact, if any of this is musical property you already own and they seek to use.

    It is not reasonable for them to own the score itself as a work-for-hire, nor any of your author share, although some people will try to go for a piece of that. Lots of kids with bands looking for their "big break" fall victim to that.

    I don't have to work that many individual contracts, because I have a few regular sources of work with whom all these things were ironed out years ago. But I can totally identify with what you're going through on this, and that's why I recommend hooking up with an attorney you feel good about, and shelling out a little bit of money to be taken out of the direct negotiation process.

    In doing so, you can authorize your attorney to (nicely) push for everything he can in the process. You, on the other hand, can have nice conversations with your producer, and be the "good guy." If they start to feel a little pushed by your attorney, you get to be the white-hat, and say, "Well, he looks out for me a little too well sometimes. That sounds reasonable. I'll tell him to work with you on that..."

    And in doing so, you probably get a little better deal than if you'd played the hand yourself. Plus, you never play the bad cop, only the good cop, so it lets you always be perceived as reasonable and generous.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    ps...that "work-for-hire" phrase can put you in some hurt down the line. If it is sprinkled anywhere in your contract, say that you are uncomfortable with the ambiguity of the phrase, and that you would like to simply enumerate the rights specifically, rather than use "work-for-hire" as an instrument to describe the relationship. More work for the lawyers, but less chance the producer (or you, for that matter) can later interpret a contract differently to suit a different situation. If for some reason (your splendid talent, for instance) a piece of this work should be a monumental success, then it is obviously in both parties' interest to go picking through the original contracts to see if anyone left any crumbs on the table. At that point, he with the best lawyers gets the crumbs, and that usually means the artist loses.

  5. #5

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Thanks Jose and Bruce!

    I definitely trust your opinions.

    I've always been told in the past (by much less experienced composers, though) that I should keep master rights. But that contradicted what I believed in. I used to be a freelance software developer and when I was hired to write software for a company, they owned everything because it was "work-for-hire". Same situation here, I guess. That does make more sense.

    All the music that I'll be writing is an underscore and none of it is pre-written. I won't be writing any actual songs. This is a micro-budget movie from a small film company, so there isn't a "team". I am getting decent royalty rights and all that, so that all fine. They're also covering all recording costs (if I decide to bring in musicians/singers).

    Unfortunately, I'll be doing this without an agent or manager, which really sucks, but I don't have a choice for now...sigh

    And I'll have the phrase "work-for-hire" removed (thanks bruce ) The other rights are spelled in the contract we've come up with.

    Hopefully, this thread will help others out too!

  6. #6

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    On the term "freelancer":
    in my country you own copyrights of anything you create unless you are directly employed (and thus an employee with a regular salary).
    Otherwise you own all rights by default, whether you are freelancer or have your own Inc.
    I guess it is probably the same in your country. Did you sign a contract that specifically mentioned that you transferred all your copyrights to this software company?
    Work for hire is a vague term indeed. Always spell out the distinct "rights" in contracts and if possible add an expiration date to the rights that you transfer.

  7. #7

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterRoos
    On the term "freelancer":
    in my country you own copyrights of anything you create unless you are directly employed (and thus an employer with a regular salary).
    Otherwise you own all rights by default, whether you are freelancer or have your own Inc.
    Get ready for an influx of composers and programmers to your country. Owning your own music for composers is practically unheard of in this country unless you own your own record label or do concert music.

    Looking on my map...Where are the Netherlands again?

  8. #8

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Hey Peter,

    Nope, I haven't signed anything yet. And I won't until both I and the film company are happy with all the terms and copyright issues. We're trying to help each other out as much as possible on this.

    Netherlands, huh? I'm a Canadian living in the U.S.. How easy is it for a Canadian to get into The Netherlands? lol!

  9. #9

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    The Netherlands: somewhere between Norway and Spain And yes, it is rather easy to enter The Netherlands. Not sure about working permits, but I guess like other things here, that's probably not difficult.

    Maybe "owning" can interpreted in multiple ways, but I was referring to our Copyrights law, which applies to a lot of stuff, including software and music. By default, you own what you create, unless you are an employee.

    Is IS possible to transfer ownership of music to the person hiring you, but NOT if you are member of BUMA, the Dutch version of Ascap/BMI, which specifically forbids this. Of course you CAN transfer publishing rights, but as BUMA member you are NOT allowed to wave you ownership and royalties claims.

    Just to clear up what I meant by my previous post.

  10. #10

    Re: OT: Film Composer License Agreements

    Careful with the "work-for-hire" term. Legally this means that you are not the composer or writer anymore, hence no ASCAP/BMI writer's share period!

    Work-for-hire is work-for-hire is work-for-hire! This has got nothing to do with Master Licenses, Sync Licenses and other licenses. Be very careful and try to always avoid using that term on any contracts because they will more than likely prevent you from being able to collect PR's in the future should the movie actually go somewhere.

    You can assign Master Licenses without actually doing work-for-hire. I would recommend that you get yourself the book This Business of Music


    I would also advise that you find an affordable entertainment lawyer to negotiate the deal for you, this is of course assuming that the job pays you a decent amount enough to warrant the extra expense. By getting a lawyer, you will not only be more protected legally, but you will also effectively remove yourself from the face to face negotiations leading to protection against "negative vibes" being associated with directly with you. You want the producers and directors to look at you purely in a professional and artistic role, and not as a PITA negotiator.
    Music Composition for Feature Films, Television and Interactive Entertainment

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