iConsumer

iConsumer #9 – What are sync rights in music law and why are they so tricky to manage?

iConsumer deals with sync rights in music law, why they are so essential in a digital world where derivative works can be easily exploited and how they can be used properly?

What are sync right in music?

In music law, synchronization rights (“sync” for short) imply that the copyright holder of a particular song or any kind of composition has the exclusive control to sync music with a particular visual media output – e.g., the footage of a film, television shows, advertisements, a documentary, sequence of images etc.

Therefore, the musical composition is combined and “manipulated” in a secondary product of a different kind of art of another individual.

Why are sync rights so important in music?

For their nature, sync rights are a tricky issue to handle under copyright law, since they involve more complex issues than reproduction rights and affect moral rights of the first author.

Indeed, in a world where digital tools allow anyone to manipulate and easily produce creative works, anyone can create works that may give a completely different meaning to the original one. Such activity is problematic in some cases, since the author of the derivative work may attribute to the first one a meaning that differs from the conception of the first author. In particular, according to Italian case law,

the unauthorized use as a synchronized soundtrack for the opening and closing credits of a soap opera violates the copyright of a musical work

since the synchronization of a musical work is extended to moving images, of whatever their nature, and is encompassed amongst the exclusive rights of the author of the composition itself.

How to exploit sync rights in music?

Given the above, it is often held that the only lawful way to synchronize music with visual contents is seeking consent of the copyright holder of the music composition.

On the contrary, the licence released by the Italian collecting society (the Società Italian per gli Autori e gli Editori) does not cover sync rights, and therefore, it is not enough where a third user intends to sync original music to visual content.

Amongst other things, this principle has been confirmed by the Italian Supreme Court in the landmark decision No. 29811 of 12 December 2017, stating that

synchronization, which is a form of manipulation for reproductive use of musical works, falls within the exclusive prerogatives of their author as per Sections 12 and 61 of the Italian Copyright Law, regardless of the type and content of the medium, the product or the audiovisual medium with which the musical composition is combined

with the exclusion of such uses qualifying as “public execution“, such as, for example, the video of an individual doing an acoustic cover of famous song.

What rights are required to third users intending to sync music?

As results of the above, anyone intending to synchronize music with visual content is recommended to previously seek consent of the author of the original music track, e.g. by way of a written declaration authorizing such kind of use of the original work. This may not be so easy to negotiate, but this is a pivotal requirement if you want to use any original music and sync it with any video material.

On a similar topic, you may find interesting my previous iConsumer article “Can artificial intelligence be the author of copyright protected works?“. Stay tuned, register to our newsletter and don’t forget to try Prisca our GDPR chatbot described HERE.

Also, if you find this article interesting, please share it on your favorite social media!

I am Tommaso Fia, you can contact me at [email protected] and read the other issues of my Vision iConsumer here

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Tommaso Fia

I work in the Intellectual Property & Technology department of DLA Piper in Milan. I am specialized in data protection, consumer law and intellectual property law. I am very keen on music and its regulation.

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