Common Licensing Terms Defined


ADI or Area of Dominant Influence is the geographic area or market reached by a radio or television station. It is used by advertisers and rating companies to determine the potential audience of a station.

Blanket License

A "blanket license" is a license which allows the music user to perform the ASCAP repertory, which includes over 10 million musical works, as much or as little as they like. The blanket license saves music users the paperwork, trouble and expense of finding and negotiating licenses with all of the copyright owners of the works that might be used during a year and helps prevent the user from inadvertently infringing on the copyrights of ASCAP's members and the many foreign writers whose music is licensed by ASCAP in the US. Fees paid under a blanket license are based on the ways in which the licensee uses music (for example, digital music services pay different fees than the owner of a bar in which music is heard) and do not vary depending on the extent the licensee actually performs ASCAP music. [see also Per Program License]

Dramatic (or “Grand”) and Nondramatic Performances/Rights

ASCAP members grant to ASCAP only the right to license nondramatic performances of their copyrighted musical works. Thus, an ASCAP license does not authorize dramatic performances of our members' works. "Dramatic" (often referred to as "grand") rights in musical works are licensed by the composer or publisher, or other licensing agent for the work. Traditionally, in dramatic works, the main motivation is the telling of a story and the music serves to enhance the plot. This was thought to increase the economic value of the music, leading the rightsholders of the music to conclude that they could derive greater benefit if they controlled the licensing of the works themselves.

Copyright law does not define the terms "dramatic" or "nondramatic." As a result, rightsholders, music users and occasionally the federal courts must attempt to draw the line between "dramatic" and "nondramatic" performances. That line is often unclear and depends on the facts pertaining to a particular performance. As a general rule a dramatic performance usually involves using the work to tell a story or as part of a story or plot. Thus, when songs are employed as part of a dramatic production - a Broadway musical such as Hamilton or in a ballet such as Twyla Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs", for example - the performances of the music are dramatic and are beyond the scope of an ASCAP license. In addition, excerpts of musicals accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken, and incorporating a live or recorded performance of a song into a story or plot - even though the composition was not originally written for a musical play - would also result in a dramatic performance of the song.

By contrast, when a singer sings songs from several Broadway musicals, a medley of songs from one particular play, or a medley of unrelated songs as part of a concert, revue or cabaret show, those are "nondramatic" public performances.

The "nondramatic" public performances of musical compositions that ASCAP licenses on behalf of its members include, for example, recordings of songs that are broadcast on radio (other than an entire - or substantially complete - recording of a dramatico-musical work), songs or background music performed as part of a movie or other television program, or live or recorded performance of musical compositions in a bar, restaurant, hotel, store or other place open to the public.


Whenever there is doubt as to whether specific performances of musical works might be considered to be dramatic or nondramatic, ASCAP encourages the music user to contact the rightsholders directly to get their view. If the rightsholders are of the view that the performances are dramatic, they will decide whether or not to license the performances directly (or at all). In some instances, ASCAP's members may wish to license the performances directly even if they are not clearly dramatic performances. The rights ASCAP obtains from its members are nonexclusive, so that members retain the right to license directly performances of their works whether or not they are dramatic in nature. Information as to the rightsholders of works in the ASCAP repertory can be obtained from the ASCAP ACE database:

Mechanical Rights

A mechanical right is the right to record/copy and distribute (without visual images) a song on a material object for private use. Mechanical rights or a mechanical license must be obtained in order to lawfully make and distribute "cover" songs on a record, CD or as a digital file. Recording rights for most music publishers can be obtained from a variety of companies, including:

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Per Program License

A "per program" license is similar to the blanket license in that it authorizes a radio or television broadcaster to use all music in the ASCAP repertory. However, the fee varies depending on the specific radio or television programs that contain that music, requiring that the user keep track of all music used. Also, the user must be certain to obtain rights for all the music used in programs not covered by the license.

Public Performance or Performance Rights

A public performance is one that occurs "in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." A public performance also occurs when the performance is transmitted by means of any device or process (for example, via broadcast, telephone wire, or other means) to the public. In order to perform a copyrighted work publicly, the user must obtain performance rights from the copyright owner or his representative.

Record Label

A record label (or record company) makes, distributes and markets sound recordings (CDs, digital files, vinyl records, etc.). Record labels obtain from music publishers the right to record and distribute songs and in turn pay license fees for the recordings.


A transmission of a performance is one that is sent by any device or process (for example, radio, TV, cable, satellite, telephone) and received in a different place. A retransmission is a further transmission of that performance to yet another place. An example is when a cable system retransmits the signal that it receives from a local television station.

Sound Recording

A sound recording refers to the copyright in a recording of music, words or other sounds onto a material object like a CD, digital file, vinyl record, etc. The copyright encompasses what you hear: the artist singing, the musicians playing, the entire production. The sound recording copyright is owned by the owner of the master recording, typically a record label. By contrast, the copyright in the song or composition (encompassing the words and music) that are embodied in a sound recording is owned by the songwriter(s) or music publisher(s) who grants the record label a "mechanical" license to record and distribute the song as part of the sound recording.

Synchronization (or "Synch") Rights

A synchronization or "synch" right involves the use of a recording of a musical work in audio-visual form: for example as part of a motion picture, television program, music video or commercial announcement. Often, the music is "synchronized" or recorded in timed relation with the visual images. Synchronization rights are licensed by the music publisher to the producer of the movie or program.

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