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Entertainment Law Asked & Answered – Grand Rights and Sound Recordings?

In this Asked & Answered video, I answer a question about licensing sound recordings for use in a live-stage production.




We all know you need a grand rights license to use a song in a play, but do you also need permission from the record label if you're also using a recording in the stage presentation?

Hi, I'm attorney Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer your entertainment law questions, to help you take your career and business to the next level.

My friend and colleague Mike called me up with a question about music rights in the theatre…

When you perform a song in a stage production, you need a license. It's called a GRAND RIGHTS or DRAMATIC PERFORMANCE RIGHTS license. This kind of license covers the right to publicly perform the musical composition as part of your stage presentation.

But what if the performers aren't singing the song live, and instead you're playing an existing recording?

In the film and television business, this would be called a “Master Use” license… and you'd have to get permission separately from the record label that owns the copyright in the recording (the “Master” as it's referred to.)

the reason is that copyright law provides a bundle of rights.. and among these is the right of the copyright owner to control the reproduction (copying) and the making of derivative works of both the composition and the recording. And, when you make a film or tv show, you are making a copy of these elements, and incorporating them into your film or show, a derivative work.

But in the live stage situation, it's not a reproduction, and you're not creating any kind of new material… so it's merely a “performance”… and while a copyright owner in a musical composition has the right to control public performances of the song, the owner of a sound recording doesn't. So, in the U.S., Copyright law doesn't give a public performance right in sound recordings. (this is a situation that goes back to the early days of radio, and there's a move afoot to change it, but for now, there's no public performance right in sound recordings

So, if you're putting on a play, and you're using music, you need to get Grand Rights licenses from the music publishers who own the compositions, but not from the record companies that own the masters. At least until the law changes…



This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for viewers'’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.

2 Responses to Entertainment Law Asked & Answered – Grand Rights and Sound Recordings?

  1. Thank you for sharing this information! Does a live stage production (ex: choreographed dance production) need to secure a grand rights license for music being used since it involves a story line? If not, what kind of music licensing will this type of production need to secure? The music is being used in two ways: 1) A sound recording of a song is used in the beginning and end of every show, to set the tone of the production; and 2) Dancers are dancing choreographed movement to the a sound recording of a song.

    • It’s not really for me to give specific answers to specific questions here I’ve already replied to you via email. Thanks for the great question though.

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