BZ/Rights 101
The Most Comprehensive Rights Clearance Service In the Business

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An Overview of Rights Clearance

Before you start a project:

Always check on whether the material you want is available, and at a fee you can afford. Rights owners sometimes refuse requests or require a fee you can't afford.

If your creative project involves MUSIC CLEARANCE:

(Synchronized with visuals: videos, films, TV, CD ROM, DVD, Power Point presentations)

To use a commercial recording, permissions are needed from:
  1. the music publisher
  2. the record company
  3. musicians, background singers and possibly principal performers
To make your own recording of the music and lyrics of popular songs, exactly as written, you need:
  1. permission from the music publisher, and
  2. releases from the performers you hire

TIP: Doing your own recording can often save money.

TIP: Recordings by no-name performers of popular songs are often available at a very reasonable fee and are an excellent way to cut costs.

To change lyrics, the permission of the music publisher is required.

TIP: The smaller the lyric change, the more easily and quickly permission can be obtained. Some songs never allow lyric changes.

If your creative project involves CELEBRITY RIGHTS:

In the United States, celebrities and public figures control the uses of their name, likeness, signature, and voices for commercial purposes during their lifetimes and for 100 years after their death.

If you want to use a celebrity or a public figure in your commercial project a print ad, a TV or radio commercial, a corporate brochure, or anything else that could be considered commercial you must clear publicity rights with them or, if they are no longer living, with their estates.

TIP: The decision as to whether celebrity rights clearance needs to be done is crucial. Celebrity clearances add enormous cost and effort to any project. Obtaining expert advice about whether such clearances are really needed is important.

If your creative project involves FILM CLIP CLEARANCE:

If you want to use a clip from a film or TV program, there are multiple clearances to be obtained. Required clearances include the owner of the film or TV program, all performers who appear in the clip, and possibly the Writers and Directors Guilds. Music in the clip also requires separate permissions from the music publisher and the record company.

TIP: Movie companies tend to charge high fees and some of them do not allow their clips to be used. Some performers are difficult to locate. These considerations mean that clips are often not available or affordable for small projects such as in-house use, and are very expensive and very time-consuming to clear for other uses such as TV commercials.

If your creative project involves PHOTO LICENSING:

Clearing a photograph is a two-level process:

Anyone who uses a photograph for any reason must obtain permission from the owner of the photograph, usually either the photographer or a stock house. Magazines, newspapers and wire services also often own photographs.

You must then address the issue of what is depicted in the photograph.

Is it a person do their rights have to be cleared?

Is it a trademark (buildings such as the Chrysler and Empire State are now protected by trademark), or a logo, or a brand, or a work of art, or a scene from a film that requires separate clearance?

TIP: Do not presume that permission from a stock photo house implies permission to use the likeness of any person, brand name, logo, or building that is shown in the photo.

TIP: What rights you have to clear for whatever is depicted in the photograph depends on how you are using the photograph. Get expert advice to avoid paying an unnecessary fee.

If your creative project involves TEXT/BOOK PERMISSIONS:

To reprint, reproduce or record any written text, you must get permission from the owner of the copyright.

TIP: Be aware that many valuable written works are in the Public Domain.

If your creative project involves ART RIGHTS:

Clearance for the use of art is a two-level process (much like clearances for photographs):

The first level of clearance is the art object itself you must get permission from the creator of the painting, sculpture, drawing, cartoon, or design if it is in copyright.

The second level arises if you use a photograph or color transparency to reproduce the work of art. A separate clearance must be obtained for the photograph or drawing or whatever you use to reproduce the art.

TIP: Be aware that many valuable works of art are in the Public Domain.

If your creative project involves SPORTS RIGHTS, IMAGES and EVENTS:

You must obtain permission from the athlete whose name, likeness, signature, or voice you wish to use.

Other issues arise around sports clearances the athlete's uniform, team, and athletic venues like the Superbowl, may need to be cleared separately.

If you are using a photograph or videotape of an athlete, you may have to obtain separate rights from the photographer or videographer.

TIP: Olympic symbols, trademarks and name have special protection.

If your creative project involves CARTOON LICENSING:

Cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, the Simpsons, and Superman are difficult to license and extremely expensive.

The companies that own cartoons do the drawing and any animation that is needed for your project.

Approvals of the rights owners are required throughout the process of creating everything from an ad campaign to a coffee cup.

TIP: Many companies have worked with major cartoon figures successfully, but you must have a significant and suitable project with a large budget, and the willingness and time to go through a lengthy approval process. Owners of most characters are not interested in small low-budget projects. Most cartoon characters cannot be associated with alcohol, gambling or drugs (not even asprin!).

If your creative project involves TRADEMARK CLEARANCES:

Trademarks can protect such widely varied things as names (Pepsi), letters (CBS), numbers (Chanel No. 5), titles, short phrases or slogans, buildings (Chrysler Building), distinctive symbols (McDonald's golden arches), container shapes, characters like Peter Rabbit, logos (the CBS eye), and even musical phrases (NBC's 3-note chime).

If you want to use something that is trademarked, the trademark owners' permission must be obtained.

TIP: Copyright registration cannot be made for names, titles and other short phrases. But they can be trademarked.

TIP: Owners of trademarks have a variety of responses to requests for use of the marks. Some grant permission without charging a fee, for the public relations value of the use. Others hardly ever allow their marks to be used for any reason. And some companies use their trademarks as a source of profit. Because trademarks are often owned by companies that do not have a specific department or person designated to handle requests to use their mark, getting permission can be tough going.

FINAL TIP: Prices from licensors depend primarily on

  1. What your use will be i.e., are you using material in TV or radio commercials, print ads, in-house/industrial use, films or TV productions, film festivals, websites, recordings, print, et cetera
  2. What your specifications for use are, which can include term, territory, exclusivity, timing, number of copies, et cetera

Fees range from standard, completely equitable fees to the outrageous, to occasional surprisingly low fees.

Have more questions about rights? Call BZ/Rights at (212) 924-3000 for your FREE initial consultation.

If you would like articles in more depth on these and related subjects, go to BZ/Free Info.

NOTE: This is a general guide. Some clearance projects may include complex issues that cannot be covered here.

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