Most people working in film, television and TV advertising have heard at least one horror story to do with music rights. To add to this we're happy to supply some examples from our files. Names have been changed to protect the victims.



An advertising agency asks us for advice on a piece of music planned for a lager commercial. The song is an obvious pastiche of a classic standard – highly famous and equally highly expensive. The agency is advised in no uncertain terms not to use the melody, but to use the famous brass arrangement of the song (not copyrighted) with the notes inverted. This they promise to do. However, in recording the voiceover they get the actor to semi-sing the title word from the original song.


RESULT:  The commercial is aired and the publisher of the song claims that the agency is ‘passing off’ and demands a £200,000 fee. We intervene and persuade the publisher to reduce their fee to £3,000 …





On a film set where the scene to be shot is of a jazz band, one of the musicians tells the production assistant that some of the previously cleared music supplied to the production is not really working. He suggests using three of his own compositions.  The production assistant agrees but asks "Will it cost much?", he replies "A nominal fee".


RESULT:  After two days of highly expensive studio shooting the composer announces his nominal fee - £21,000…




After a distributors' screening of a high budget feature, our music supervisor approaches the director pointing out that in one scene the actor speaks the words, which are easily identifiable as a line from a Lennon-McCartney song and advises that the line should be re-dubbed, as its clearance would be way out of the budget. The director suggests that the supervisor actually tries to get a quote, which he does: £250,000 for 3 seconds…


RESULT:  If this error had gone undetected, it's likely that Lennon & McCartney's' publishers would have insisted that either the cost would be in the £1m-plus region or the scene should be removed from the film ...



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