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  • Film scoring contracts: licensing vs work for hire


    I am currently working on a film score and am pretty new to this process.  The director is a friend, and someone that I fully trust.  However, to be safe and official, we both want to draw up contracts.  He is also to the process of working with a composer.  In that past, he has only made documentaries using existing songs that he licensed.

    I am getting a flat fee for this project which would seem to imply a work for hire situation.  However, normally in a work for hire, my understanding is that the film makers take over ownership of the material.  I would like to be able to further develop some of the material I've written for this film and use it in other contexts, particularly some of the places where this music is more "song" structure than underscoring. In this case, do I need to deal with it more as a license, so that I maintain exclusive rights?

    I am truly a newb when it comes to this side of the business, and I know that it is probably a fairly complex and detail-laden question to answer, but would greatly appreciate any insights.  Especially since I have poured countless hours into this project, am proud of much of the material, am not getting paid a ton of money, AND see potential for using some of the music in other contexts.

    Some more info:  The film is an outdoor adventure documentary, will be shown in festivals and sold (mostly) within skiing community as a DVD.  Not a big money maker for the film maker, but he does have some sponsorship, and is paying me $2500 for the music.

    Many thanks in advance for your insights and wisdom,



  •  You have to have specified in writing that you have ownership of the rights to the music. Otherwise you could easily be screwed if anybody wants to do it.  This can be done simply with a "memo" type contract signed by all parties. Otherwise, the company that paid you can tell you not to develop it.  You should make him pay you just the way a music library owner is paid - he gets license to use the music but does not own the rights.

    This is the whole reason I hate to write film music -  I don't want an idiot to own my music.

    Not that I'm not an idiot - I just don't want ANOTHER idiot to own it.

  • last edited
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    @William said:

    Not that I'm not an idiot - I just don't want ANOTHER idiot to own it.

    lmfao! That's awesome.  In addition to the laugh factor in your reply, I get what you are saying about the contracts.  So, basically I want to state that I retain all ownership rights to the music, and that the filmmaker can use the material as a license for this project?

    Ok, I get that.  Are most people that do this type of licensing using some stock forms/contracts/etc?

    Thanks William,


  • What country are you in? There are various organisations that can help, here in the UK the Musicians Union is very useful and can supply form contracts. I do quite a few documentaries, and don't usually need to sign away publishing or copyright. Normally I let them have exclusive use of the music for one year, and they are usually happy with that, it can become a good bargaining point. e.g. I know they can only pay a certain amount, so I ask for twice that. When they say they can't afford it, I say OK as long as you don't want the publishing and I can have the right to use it again in a year. They are happy because they think they got a great deal, and they don't really care if the music is used for something else (it's not exactly Starwars), and I'm happy because I can use the music again, or get it in a production music library.

  •  The question of what country are you in is indeed very relevant. As you are talking about works made for hire, I assume you are dealing with a US-based company. In such a case, you may find useful to check the following information:

    If you are not dealing with a US-based company, things may differ greatly. In continental Europe there is no such a thing as a work made for hire, so that the author of the music is normally the original rightsholder and this gives raise to a number of differences (including a.o. the author retaining moral rights in all cases).

    In any event, you are best adviced by getting some legal expertise of your particular situation.