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Sauti Sol vs Azimio: Vast landscape of music copyright

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Sauti Sol has threatened to sue Azimio la Umoja One Kenya for copyright infringement. They accused the coalition of using one of their songs — Extravaganza — when unveiling the running mate.

It has happened previously when Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination borrowed Diplo's ‘Revolution’ song.

The events of this case brought to light a type of copyright known as synchronisation licensing. What is this mouthful concept? Is it possible for any artist to earn a lucrative deal? Let's start with an explanation of what sync licensing (sync) entails.

‘Sync’ is a legal agreement between the copyright owner of a piece of music and the party seeking to use that music that allows the copyrighted music to be synchronised to any other type of content; in other words, a licence that allows the time-perfect matching of video and audio within a movie, TV show, commercial, video game, or any other form of visual media. Simply put in this equation: Video + audio = sync licence, where ‘audio’ = payment.

The past decade has witnessed an absolute explosion in the quantity of gaming, video content and streaming.

Almost all of that requires music, since music naturally finds its way into all those (other) types of content necessitating the requirement for a sync licence, which is necessary regardless of how tiny a section of the song is used.

As a result of the duplicity of music copyright, licensing turns into a diverse landscape on the artiste's side. As you probably know, every original song has two distinct sets of rights attached to it: recording master rights (usually owned by the artist/label) and composition rights (owned by the songwriter/publisher).

That means that to use the song, one has to clear two separate sets of rights even if the recording artist and the songwriter is the same person.

Thus, in a sync agreement, there are two main factors that an artist should consider: the total earnings (including the licensing lump sum as well as long-tail public performance royalties) and the overall promotional potential of the sync: artists and songwriters will receive monetary compensation based on their range as well as the extent of the song's use.

Furthermore, it is trite for the artist to examine the scope of use, which is made up of three components: Licence Term; or the duration of the agreement; Licence Territory/Market, which determines which markets and countries the licence will apply to; and Nature of Use, which refers to how the music will be used.

As a result, the breadth of usage reflects how much the licensee need the music; the more the scope, the greater the artist's negotiating strength.

The license term and territorial components are self-explanatory, but the "Nature of Use" sets the bounds of potential sync in broad words like "background," "feature," "theme," "under credits," and so on. In a way, the nature of use determines the importance of music for the final content.

And that is the gist of synchronisation licensing.