Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Licensing Plate: 10 Music Licensing Tips for Producers of Independent Films

A site called The Licensing Plate has an excellent list of tips for independent filmmakers to help them avoid the situation in which Nina Paley finds herself: her film completed, but unable to get distribution because she hasn't cleared the music, and reduced to pimping herself out (metaphorically, to be sure) via eBay.

In a nutshell, The Licensing Plate urges filmmakers to behave like responsible adults rather than spoiled brats who whine about their "artistic vision" being crushed when they can't reach a deal with the owners of music copyrights. Among the tips: plan ahead, don't fall in love (with a particular piece of music), and ask questions. My personal favorite:
Licensing People Are People Too: And finally, the people who work in licensing departments at music publishers and record labels are not out to make your life miserable. I know a lot of them. They’re good people. But like the rest of us, they have jobs to do and bills to pay. And their job is to make money for their company and their artists. That’s what they get paid to do. It is how they earn a living. They realize that you are self financing your film and they will do their best to work with you. They would rather have your money than have nothing. Try not to yell.
Read up, Nina.


  1. I know you like to dog Nina, but I don't see how her use of the songs in her movie is any less "tranformative" than the Republicans' use of the Jackson Brown song. Care to explain why you would defend one while ridiculing the other?

  2. Maybe I've missed it, but I don't believe even Ms. Paley and her supporters have claimed that her uses of the songs at issue are so "transformative" as to render them fair uses. (And I don't believe the law would support that position in her case.) Rather, I understand their argument to be that, under current law, the uses would be infringing without licenses from the publishers -- and that is a bad thing.

    And I'm sorry, but I won't discuss the merits of the Jackson Browne case at this point. All I can do right now is direct you to the briefs:


  3. Correct; there is no argument of fair use through transformative use here.

    And yes, often the people implementing bad policies are nice people who have bills to pay just like anyone else. That doesn't make the policies any better.

    Also, nice as they may be, the fact is that these licensors often make it very, very difficult for artists to communicate with them. As Nina points out (from personal experience), you have to pay thousands to lawyers just to get the licensors to take you seriously enough to talk to you. So while they may be nice, they don't necessarily act nice, even when you're offering them money.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.