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 any or all of the over 10 million musical works in the ASCAP repertory, as much or as little as they like. Licensees pay an annual fee for the license. 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. [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 drama. 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 Jersey Boys 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

Other examples of dramatic performances:

  • Performance of an entire (or substantially complete) "dramatico-musical work" that includes songs written for that work. For example, a performance of the musical Oklahoma would be a dramatic performance, as would a performance of all or substantially all of the songs written for the play. This includes both staged performances and broadcasts of the work, whether audio-visual or audio-only (as by playing all or a substantial part of an original cast album over radio). The term "dramatico-musical work" includes, but is not limited to, a musical comedy, opera, play with music, revue or ballet.
  • Performance of one or more musical compositions from a "dramatico-musical work" accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken. For example, a performance of the song "People Will Say We're In Love" from "Oklahoma" with costumes, sets,stage action or dialogue from the show would also be a dramatic performance.
  • Performance of one or more musical compositions, whether or not such composition (or compositions) is (or are) from a "dramatico-musical work," as part of a story or plot, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action or visual representation. For example, incorporating a live or recorded performance of "People Will Say We're in Love" into a story or plot -- even though the story or plot is unrelated to Oklahoma -- would result in a dramatic performance of the song. Similarly, incorporating a live or recorded performance of "Eleanor Rigby" 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.
  • Performance of a concert version of a "dramatico-musical work." For example, a performance of all of the songs written for Oklahoma even without costumes, sets, props or dialogue from the musical would constitute a dramatic performance of the songs.


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 performances of musical compositions in a bar, restaurant, hotel, store or other place open to the public.

Additional examples of "nondramatic" and "dramatic" performances:

  • Nondramatic: In the course of a cabaret show, revue or concert with a band or orchestra, presented without costumes, sets, props, stage action, or dialogue, a singer sings songs from several Broadway musicals, a medley of songs from one particular play, or a medley of unrelated songs. Note, however, that if a medley alters the original songs or includes material in addition to the original songs, the creation of such a medley is likely to require the permission of the rightsholder(s) of the songs to be used in the medley and without such permission, may not be covered by an ASCAP license.
  • Nondramatic: An orchestra performs Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet music in concert.
  • Dramatic: A stage presentation -- at a Las Vegas hotel, for example -- in which performances of medleys of three songs from several different Broadway shows are given, accompanied by costumes and props resembling those of the original Broadway productions, with perhaps some dialogue as well.
  • Dramatic: A dance company presents a ballet set to songs by Billy Joel.
  • Likely dramatic: A stage presentation that features the songs of a single songwriter or songwriting team (at least one court has characterized such performances as an example of the exercise of a kind of grand right, called the "cavalcade right," requiring the permission of the owners of the copyrights in the songs being performed).


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 and distribute (without visual images) a song on a phonorecord for private use. Mechanical rights or a mechanical license must be obtained in order to lawfully make and distribute records, CDs and tapes. Recording rights for most music publishers can be obtained from

The Harry Fox Agency
205 East 42nd Street
New York, New York 10017

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 the works in the ASCAP repertory. However, the license is designed to cover use of ASCAP music in a specific radio or television program, 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, MP3s, 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.

Sound Recording

A sound recording refers to the copyright in a recording as distinguished from the copyright in a song. The copyright in the song encompasses the words and music and is owned by the songwriter(s) or music publisher(s). The sound recording is the result of recording music, words or other sounds onto a CD, MP3, 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. The copyright in the musical work itself is owned by the music publisher, which grants the record label a "mechanical" license to record and distribute the song as part of the record.

Synchronization (or "Synch") Rights

A synchronization or "synch" right involves the use of a recording of 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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