A simple definition of Copyright is the "right to copy, publish or perform". It is a way of expressing the legal exclusive right of ownership. A publishing company is generally the registered copyright owner of its production music and sound effects products.
What does Public Domain Mean?
From the time a piece of music is created, it is protected by copyright. The international laws governing copyright are the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. Under the Berne Convention, copyright extends for the life of the composer plus a minimum of 50 years following his or her death.
Most of the world's industrial countries have signed the Berne Convention and comply with it - although all countries have their own copyright laws which may extend the copyright period for an additional number of years. Many countries have extended this copyright term to a period of 70 years following the death of the composer.
Once a piece of music has existed beyond the copyright protection of a country, that piece of music is considered to be in the Public Domain in that country. If you are intending to use a piece of music that is in the Public Domain, make sure that you check the Copyright Laws in all countries where the production will be used to make sure that your use conforms to the laws of those countries.
If a Piece of Music is in the Public Domain, Can I Use It?
Yes - you may use the music, but you must either own the copyright to the recording of the music that you use, or you need to obtain a synchronization license for someone else's copyright protected recording of that piece of music. You do not have to pay or obtain a license from the original composer (since they have been dead for at least 50 years), but you do need to have the rights to use a recording of the music.
What is Synchronization?
Synchronization is the term that describes the way in which production music can be utilized in productions that you create. A sound effect or music track (or a portion thereof) can be synchronized with a visual presentation (the sound of a creaky door timed perfectly to be heard when a door opens), or with other audio material such as a voice over - as in the case of a radio commercial. A music track can be synchronized for use in many different kinds of media: television, radio, film, multimedia and audio-visual presentations, Web sites, computer games and music.
Production music and sound effects products are sold with their synchronization rights as described in an End User License Agreement like this one.
The rights to re-sell, re-publish or otherwise distribute production music or sound effects are not obtained with your acquisition of synchronization rights to these products. When you use a publisher's production music or sound effects tracks, they must be synchronized within a multimedia presentation, film, Web site, game, audio-visual production or broadcast.
What are Synchronization Rights?
With a synchronization license, you gain permission to reproduce a musical composition or sound effect within an audio-visual media form (like films, TV programs, commercial announcements, music videos, multimedia or other visual presentations). These audio files are synchronized and/or recorded in timed relation with the visual images, graphic design or voiceover in your production. You are not authorized to re-distribute or sell the individual audio tracks in any way. Doing so would violate the owner's copyright.
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