Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wedding Videography and Sync License

Dear Rich: I'm thinking of starting a wedding videography business and I'm trying to find out if and/or when I need to obtain music license(s) for making wedding DVDs. Researching on the web has proven nothing but confusing. Some places say using any song under any circumstance is illegal. Other's say something along the lines of... the couple has the right to private listening/playing/performing these songs since the wedding is a private event. I'm not wanting to add the music (I have a production music library for that). I'm just wanting to know if any songs played or sung during the ceremony need licenses like what about if someone sings or plays Shania Twain's "From This Moment" during the unity candle. I even asked a lawyer about this and he said that because only a couple copies are made it's covered under fair use. I've researched fair use and don't think this qualifies. I'm not a lawyer, but if a lawyer doesn't make sense, you understand my apprehension? In order to distribute a DVD in which music accompanies a video, you need a sync license from the owner of the song. Good luck getting one. The Harry Fox Agency tried to organize a system for people like you and you can read about their attempts, here. In addition, if a DJ at the wedding party plays pre-recorded music (not a wedding band covering the song), you'd need permission (a Master Use license) from the owner of the recording (a record company). We assume you won't have the ability to research this stuff and enter into separate licenses for every song (even if you could get the music publisher or record company to take your calls). 
Are you an infringer if you don't get a sync license? 
Probably. Will you get caught? Probably not. Unless you're videoing a wedding in which someone from the RIAA marries someone from ASCAP, chances are good that nobody will know or care about your work. The legal advice you received may also apply -- if you are hassled, you may be able to argue that it's fair use but that depends on the four fair use factors, particularly the first and last ones. If you're looking for a jerry-rigged solution to your situation, you could obtain a mechanical license for the song from Harry Fox and if hassled, argue that you made these payments in lieu of any other system for compensation. The mechanical license is not intended to cover video but your payment would demonstrate your good faith (and the Dear Rich staff bets that a music publisher is more likely to back off if you took this route). What's the video clip got to do with your question? This movie has our favorite wedding music