Master Use License Agreement

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Updated Apr 29, 2024
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A master use license agreement permits you to use a copyrighted sound recording for your TV ad, radio show, podcast, video game, or any other creative production you intend to distribute for public consumption. This agreement covers the terms and conditions for granting a license, including royalty terms, the license term, rights granted to the licensee, etc.
Paper titled "Master Use License Agreement"; woman and man shaking hands near cameras

Copyright laws protect the intellectual rights of original musical recordings. These laws help protect the artist’s right to be paid for his or her work. Using music without permission from the owner is illegal, and those who do so can be sued. 

You will need a master use license agreement executed by the owner of the music to have the legal right to use the artist’s copyrighted material. To expedite master licensing, a synchronization and master use license agreement template is available for download as a pdf to use as is or to customize according to your specific needs. 

What Is a Master Use License Agreement?

A master use license agreement is a contract between the owner of a copyrighted sound recording and a person who wants to use that music. This contract provides legal permission from the owner (the licensor) to the person who wants to use the music (the licensee) for a defined use. The master licensing contract template sets forth the scope of how the licensee may use the music and the compensation the licensor will receive in exchange for granting the license. 

Insight

As a matter of business practice, the music industry also recognizes the right to synchronize musical works to visual content (e.g., in a music video). This synchronization is a type of reproduction right and may also relate to the derivative work right.

Parties of the Master Use License Agreement

There are two parties to a master use license agreement:

  • The Licensor — the owner of the copyrighted sound recording or the party who the owner has given the authority to license the music on his or her behalf.
  • The Licensee — the party purchasing the license to use the music from the copyright owner

Key Terms

There are several unique industry terms used in a master user agreements templates. The following are essential terms that may be included:

  • Sound recording — a reproduction of copyrighted sounds of a song or musical piece of work.
  • Compositions — the copyrighted intellectual property of a musical work, such as the harmony, melody, and lyrics of a song or instrumental works without lyrics.
  • Copyrighted sound recording and compositions — When an artist registers a sound recording or a composition with the US Copyright Office, the rights to that work are better protected. However, even if the owner has not registered for a copyright, it is still illegal to use that work without permission.
  • Recording artist — an individual, band, or symphony that performs music for the purpose of recording it and releasing it publicly.
  • Rights granted — the master license agreement will set forth exactly what rights are being granted to the licensee.
  • Licensed term — the agreement should define how long the licensee will have the rights being conveyed and when those rights end. 
  • Royalties — the amount of any royalties to be paid by the licensee to the licensor for the use of the sound recording should be defined in the contract.
  • Warranties — the licensor should warrant that he or she is the owner of the intellectual property and has the authority to grant the rights to use the property to the licensee.
Warning

Do not forget to stipulate in your license agreement the scope of the granted license. The scope describes how the licensee will be able to use the license, namely, whether the license will be exclusive or restrictive to certain geographical areas or sectors. For instance, a licensee may be granted a limited right to use the licensed musical work within a specific state of the US only, for the duration of the term. This limitation provides the possibility for the licensor to grant exclusive rights for certain territories and nonexclusive for others. 

What Should Be Included in a Master Use License Agreement?

It’s essential that you include all the necessary elements for a legally binding document master use license agreement. The following sections and information should be standard in most of these agreements:

  1. The parties — Provide the name and contact details of the licensor and licensee.
  2. Name of the master recording — Indicate the title of the recording that makes the subject of the agreement.
  3. The license granted — State whether the licensor grants an exclusive or non-exclusive license to use the master recordings embodying the performance of the relevant artist.
  4. Rights granted — Outline the rights granted by the license, which may include the right to perform, sell, and distribute, on a non-exclusive basis, the recording that makes the subject of the contract.
  5. Rights retained by the owner — Indicate the rights the licensor maintains, which are usually all other rights except those granted by the agreement.
  6. Royalties and credits — Indicate the royalties payable to the licensor for issuing the license. This clause can also guarantee that the licensee will credit the licensor for the work.
  7. Payment schedule — Indicate how royalties will be computed, their payment schedule, and that issued statements of accounts are binding to the licensor. 
  8. Accounting — Describe how the licensee will maintain books of accounts regarding the sale of the project with the licensor’s intellectual property. This clause may also describe the circumstances under which the licensor can inspect the relevant statements of accounts.
  9. License term — Provide a clause that indicates the license term — most master use agreements issue licenses in perpetuity. 
  10. Warranties — Use this clause to guarantee that the licensor has the right to grant the license.
  11. Restrictions — Restrict the licensee from using the license in any way apart from the provisions outlined in the agreement.
  12. Assignment — The assignment clause prohibits the licensee from assigning the agreement to a third party without the written permission of the copyright owner.
  13. Indemnity clause — Include this general clause that the parties can use to absolve or assign.
  14. Signatures — Both parties sign to indicate they agree to the terms provided. 

How To Write a Master Use License Contract

Once you know that you need a master recording ownership agreement, you may either contact an attorney near you for help creating the contract or download a professionally created blank template to customize for your own use. If you choose to use a printable template, follow the steps below when completing your master use license agreement.

Negotiate and Coordinate With the Counterpart

Engage the counterpart, either the licensor or licensee, and inform them of the importance of having a signed agreement. Negotiate the essential elements of the deal, which may include:

  • Exclusivity of the license;

  • Rights granted to the licensee;

  • Rights retained by the licensor;

  • Royalties and the payment schedule;

  • Restrictions;

  • Accounting considerations; and 

  • License term.

Ensure that you also get the official name of the master recording and the personal details of the counterpart, including a legal name and contact information, to complete the form.

Fill Out All Necessary Information

Once you have all necessary details, complete the variable information. An agreement form should be simple to fill out; however, some parties to the agreement may want help from an attorney. The basic details to include are the parties’ personal information, the name of the master recording, the royalties payable, and the license terms.

Print and Sign

Once you have completed and reviewed all the sections of the contract, it is ready for use. Download and print out the form, sign the document, and give it to the other party for signing.

When Should a Master Use License Agreement Be Used?

To know when to use a master use license, it is important to understand the different parts that make up a musical production. Every musical production (with or without lyrics) has two parts and, therefore, two copyrights — composition and sound recording. The composition is the underlying part of the song, including the melody, notes, harmonies, lyrics, and rhythms. A sound recording is the performance of a composition that an artist fixes to a tangible audio medium.

Master use license agreements are also popular in video production. If you work in this area, you will need a video licensing agreement template to legally transfer the video ownership. Lawrina's master use license agreement is a perfect tool to tailor to these matters.

Insight

When to use a master use agreement depends on the nature of the work. If you have a podcast, then you may use it as a podcast music license agreement template. If you own a record label, then you may leverage a record label master license agreement. If the record label and the artist own the copyright, then an artist and record label master use agreement is suitable. 

Common Use Cases

There are many situations in which a person or business needs a master use license agreement form. Some of the most common use cases for this contract include:

  • An event videographer who wants to use a particular song in a video of the event.
  • A recording artist who wants to record a song owned by someone else.
  • A recording artist who wants to use a sample of a song within his or her own unique recording.
  • A podcaster who wants to use a song in the opening of the podcast.
  • A YouTuber who wants to upload a video that includes a song or composition.

When Not To Use the Master Use License Contract

To use copyrighted music, you must do so legally. However, you may not always need a master use license contract to do so. In the following situations, a license agreement may not be required:

  • When not publicly sharing the music used in a video or audio recording.
  • When paying a subscription fee to a music licensing company and purchasing a song from the platform.
  • When the use falls under the “Fair Use” doctrine, which allows a party to use small portions of the music for use in commenting, reporting, or education. Examples include classroom listening and including in a presentation or project. 

What Happens If I Don’t Get a License?

If you did not use a master ownership agreement template or otherwise create a signed license, you do not have legal permission to use a copyrighted recording. If you use a copyrighted recording without permission, you expose yourself to receiving a takedown notice or being a party to a lawsuit for infringing another person’s intellectual property. 

If you do not have a license and post a video with copyrighted music on YouTube or social media platforms, you may get a copyright strike against your account. The platform may also mute your video. Additionally, if you have ads on your account, any ad proceeds from the video would be paid to the copyright owner. 

State Law

Copyrighted music is protected by the Copyright Act of 1976 and the federal statutes found in Title 17 of the United States Code. State laws dealing with copyrighted works defer to and incorporate federal copyright laws. 

Insight

The owner of musical work under the Copyright Act has the exclusive rights to do and authorize any of the following intellectual property (IP) rights

  • to reproduce copies of the work (phonorecords); 
  • to create derivative works based on existing composition; 
  • to display the work to the public (e.g. posting lyrics on a website by sale or other transfer of ownership or performing the work publicly); and
  • to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership. 

Also Read

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a synchronization license and a master use license?

Master recording and synchronization rights agreements issue two different rights. A synchronization license is issued to give rights to a composition in an audio-visual project. In contrast, a master license agreement gives master use rights to a recording. 

What are the different types of music license agreements?

There are six main types of music license agreements that artists and composers can leverage to receive royalties from people who want to use their work. These are: 

  • A synchronization license — Allows a licensee to sync a copyrighted composition with an audio-visual work;
  • A master use license — Gives the right to use the sound recording (or the performance) of a copyrighted composition; 
  • Mechanical license — Permits the use of a copyrighted composition in an audio-only project; 
  • Public performance license — Allows a licensee to perform a copyrighted composition in public; 
  • Print rights license — Assigns the right to print or reproduce a copyrighted composition; and 
  • Theatrical license — Issued when a copyrighted composition is performed on a theater stage in front of an audience. 
Do I need a master use license agreement?

If you want to use copyrighted music recordings, either in part or in full, then you will need a master use license form that will spell out the terms of your permitted use.