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Music and Copyright: Recordings


Licensing for Recordings


A recording, for the purposes of licensing, includes any fixed media object, from physical manifestations (CDs, DVDs, LPs, etc.) to digital fixity (mp3, wav, mp4, mov, etc.). Any saved audio or video live stream is a recording. 

Recordings of copyrighted works must be licensed for distribution, both in a physical format or through an online platform. 

To date, there is no blanket mechanical licensing available, but in the next two years that should change. The Music Modernization Act (2018) established the Mechanical Licensing Collective, which is set to begin issuing blanket licenses for mechanicals starting in 2021.

Until such a license is available and the University of Iowa commits to obtaining it, works must be licensed individually through either the Harry Fox Agency, the Mechanical Licensing Collective, or other rights holders. 

Harry Fox Agency/Songfile

The Harry Fox Agency administers mechanical licensing for the over 21 million works in its catalog. Their platform Songfile is used to administer licensing of recordings. To search the HFA catalog available in Songfile, you must register for an account.

Mechanical Licensing Collective

The Mechanical Licensing Collective is a non-profit organization that administers blanket mechanical licensing for digital service providers (e.g., Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play) and distributes royalties to rights holders. The MCL has a publicly searchable database of musical works.


Mechanical License

Recording licenses, broadly speaking, but most specifically applied to sound recordings.

Synchronization License

License for synchronizing music to a visual medium (e.g., using a composition in the soundtrack of a video).

Interactive Streaming License

License for on-demand streaming of video or audio (viewer get to pick what they watch, e.g., YouTube)

Non-Interactive Streaming License

License for streaming of video or audio, but where the viewer/listener does not control which works are played and in what order (e.g., Pandora Radio)

Licensing for UI Performances

UI Licensing

Use this tool to determine how to license works for UI recordings that will be distributed online.

Licensing Tool >>