Interview with Geneviève Barsalou – Attorney

Genevieve Barsalou is a specialized attorney in copyright and entertainment law. Her expertise covers all aspects from negotiation to writing agreements regarding live performances, television, advertising, digital and book publishing including image rights, privacy and reputation.

Involved in the cultural field for many years now and also guides many players in the music industry.

She answered our questions about music rights clearance in advertising and gave us 3 advice to keep in mind when using a song in a commercial.

1. According to you, what’s the most common mistake – or the thing agencies or production companies tend to forget or neglect – when it comes to musical rights clearance – and what impact can it have?

The music field is a complex one where a lot of different right-holders coexist. When we clear the rights to a song, it’s necessary to obtain the authorization of each of them. It means you have to ask the rights to publishers who own exclusive rights on musical works as well as to the record labels who own exclusive rights to the recordings. This can sometimes mean a lot of people! Then, I would say the most common mistake is to get on using a song, without knowing the extent of the authorizations you’ll need to ask…

2. What do you need to do before aligning yourself with a song for an advertisement?

In my opinion, the first thing to do is to make a quick research about the rights-holders of the song you want to use to determine if obtaining the rights will be conceivable, or at least realistic. The further away we get from the top 40 or classical hits, the harder it can be to find the right-holders and contact them, thus excluding any possibilities of using the song!

3. Any tips to share with advertising agencies or things to avoid when using a song in a commercial?

Be open-minded. Don’t be focused on just one song. You might not obtain the rights to the song you want. The fee asked by the right-holders could also be too high for your project. You should always have a plan B, even a plan C.

Use expert services! Music rights clearance is not only complex, but it also requires you to have many pieces of information and sometimes those can be hard to get. And then, it’s not enough to just find the right-holders, you have to contact them! And find their contact information may prove to be an arduous task!

Lastly, you need to understand the obligations that come with the authorizations! The use of a preexisting song sometimes needs signing a contract of employment under a collective agreement. The use of a song may also result in the payment of additional money to an artists ‘or musicians’ union. Lawyers (or Music Rights Clearance) can be good advisers in this matter.

Never use a song if you didn’t obtain the proper rights!