Behind the Deal: A Clearance Checklist

It may seem obvious that anyone who requests permission to use a composition or master recording for some purpose would know what to include in the letter asking for a license. However, representative

It may seem obvious that anyone who requests permission to use a composition or master recording for some purpose -- whether to synchronize with a motion picture, include in a compilation CD or stream on a Web site -- would know what to include in the letter asking for a license.

However, representatives of major record labels and publishers tell ELW that, more often than not, the requests they receive are incomplete. This requires follow-up telephone calls and letters, resulting in delays and unnecessary work.

The following is a checklist of necessary information for those who hope to secure a license to use a composition or master recording for a special project.

What You're Licensing: Separate the work you want to license into parts to determine what you need -- such as the musical composition, the lyrics to reprint, songwriters' or publishers' names, trademarks such as logos, the master recording, artists' names or likenesses, and/or the record label's name or logo. Be sure to clear everything you would like to use.

Identify the Work: Clearly identify the work you want to license by including titles of the composition and recording, the timing of the track (e.g., 4:32), title of the album, catalog number, year of release, label on which the recording was released, artist's name and any other identifying information. Also include whether you want to use the entire work or a portion of it; if a portion, describe which portion and the length (e.g., the first 30 seconds). Although you would not normally include album information for simply licensing a composition, listing a recording to identify the composition may help ensure that you're not licensing the wrong composition -- many songs share the same title.

The Use: Specify how you wish to use each work. For example, do you want to use an artist's name on the cover of a compilation, in advertisements for the sale of your product and for promotional or marketing materials?

Medium for Distribution: List all the media in which you plan to promote your product, such as radio or television advertisements, Web sites and written material appearing in magazines or newspapers. If you're putting together a compilation CD, explain whether you want to release any singles to radio, include the compilation in a DVD or make individual tracks available on the Internet.

Rarely do copyright owners grant clearances for "all media, now or hereafter developed." Asking for this type of right may delay the clearance process; ask only for those rights you truly need.

Term & Territory: Include all countries in which you plan to distribute your product. If you also want rights to distribute online, you may want to request rights for the Internet and wireless transmissions. Also specify the number of years that you need for your use. Again, copyright owners rarely grant licenses "in perpetuity."

Rights Holders: Make sure you verify that the company from which you're requesting rights actually owns or controls those rights. There have been companies that grant licenses and collect fees when they -- or their clients -- do not actually own the rights in question. The company should confirm their right to license in writing.

License Fee: Include the amount of money you're offering for the license. If you're not offering money, describe the benefit you believe the rights owners will receive; if you don't, you may never hear a response.

Names: State the complete legal name, address, telephone number, fax number and e-mail address for the person or company requesting the license; if a company, include the same for the contact person.

According to labels and publishers, short, concise letters of request may speed up your clearance process. Naturally, following up with them from time to time -- but not so often that they want to avoid all your calls -- may help to move the process along as well.