Restrictions When Writing a Song for a Film

In most cases, when a song is written specifically for use in a motion picture, the film company will own the copyright and music publishing rights with the writer being only entitled to receive the songwriter’s share of income from the song.


However, depending on a writer’s bargaining power and whether a motion picture is being produced by a major or an independent production company, the writer might be allowed to retain a portion of the copyright and music publishing rights for a song being written for the film.


If this occurs, the film company will usually demand that the writer and the writer’s publishing company will not license the composition outside of the film without the film company’s approval for anywhere from 1 to 2 years after the initial theatrical release of the motion picture. This is done to protect the marketing plans of the film company for the motion picture; with the “restrictions on licensing” timeframe being negotiable (e.g. 6 months, 9 months, etc.) depending on a number of factors including the projected schedule for VOD and home video release.


In addition, the film company will want to exclusively control the print rights to the song at least as such relate to its identification with the motion picture (e.g. a folio based on the movie featuring songs used in the film).


The mechanical rate for use in a soundtrack album will also be negotiated at this time. In addition, the writer will agree to grant the “first use” mechanical license to the film company and/or the record company releasing the soundtrack album or single, which guarantees that the first release will be the version of the song from the soundtrack.