While you can usually find a cover license for a song to buy online, if you ever need to obtain a license for use in a song (such as sampling or using someone else’s music in a video), you will need to contact the owner of the copyrights to the song. These can be hard to track down if you don’t know where to look. In this guide we will give you some tips on where to look for copyrights.
Some Info on Copyrights
Before looking for who owns the rights to a song, remember that you will most likely need multiple permissions. This is because when it comes to song copyrights, there are two different kinds. The first is the musical composition, which represents the written song. The second is the master recording, which represents the recording of that song. If you were going to sample a piece of music, you would be using both the recording and the composition. In this case you would need permission to use both copyrights.
Composition rights are usually owned by a publisher, whereas the recording rights are usually owned by the record label. In some situations, however, the artist can retain rights to their own recordings.
There are a number of different websites you can use to try and track down the owner of a copyright. Here are some of the main ones:
PRS for Music – As the PRO for the UK, they have a large database that you can search for the copyright owners of UK songs
ASCAP ACE Database – ASCAP are a major PRO for America, and have a large database of composition rights information for you to search. Some search results also include contact information for the owners.
ISWC Network – An ISWC (International Standard Musical Work Code) is the number used to register a composition so that when it is performed live, the royalties made from that performance can be traced back to the copyright owners. This network lets you search for a release using the title or artist name.
United States Copyright Office Public Catalog – This database shows all the copyrights registered with the US copyright office from 1978 onwards. It will then show who registered that copyright.
Worldcat – This database can be used to search any CD releases and see who the publisher and label behind the release. From there, you can get in touch with the publisher or label to request a license.
AllMusic – This is mainly a reviews site for music, however they do include a credits section with each release where you can see who the publisher and label are. It is worth noting that not all information on this site may be accurate, however.
Contacting the Owners
Once you have found the company that owns either of the copyrights for a song, visit their website and you should be able to find some contact information for them. If you still can’t find the owners of a copyright from these websites, there are services you can pay to track down the owners of a copyright.
For more information on copyrights, see our blog on “Mechanical Licenses: Where Do I Need Them“