As a songwriter, you own 100% of the copyright and all related rights in your work from the moment you create the work and "fix it in a tangible medium" unless and until you sign those rights away. This includes any rights in music which you may be used in the soundtrack of a film or television score.
When music is used in synchronization with visual images, whether it is created especially for the score or whether it is a pre-existing song that the director wants to use in a scene in a t.v. show or film, this is referred to as "synchronization" of music with visual images. Permission in the form of a "synchronization license" must be procured by the makers of the production.
Such a license may take various forms. A songwriter may be specifically employed to write incidental music for a film. Such an arrangement may be structured as a "work made for hire" whereby the songwriter is employed to write specific music which may ultimately be owned by the producer of the film. There is no set fee for such an arrangement - it can range from a few thousand dollars for a small budget project to hundreds of thousands for a blockbuster film score.
If a film's producer, director or music supervisor decides that a certain song is right for a particular scene in a film, then a "synch" license would be requested. Depending on the length and prominence of the use, if limited solely to use in the film the price can range from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. If the movie company also wants rights to include the music on a soundtrack album, then a mechanical license would be required for that use which would pay royalties for each record sold. Also, the song should be registered with one of the performing rights societies so that revenues from performances in foreign movie theaters (U.S. movie theaters do not pay performance royalites) and from television broadcast can be collected.
Since this is a complicated area the details of which are beyond the scope of this column, I would suggest that if such an offer is made to you, a music lawyer would be a good investment.
(c) Wallace Collins
Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer . He was a recording artist for Epic Records before attending Fordham Law School.
Wallace E. J. Collins III, Esq.
250 East 39th St. (Suite 9K)
New York, New York 10016
Tel: 212 661-3656
Email: Wallace Collins