How to Write a Letter to a Music Company for Copyright Permission

A well-crafted permissions letter can unlock rights to the music you want to use.
A well-crafted permissions letter can unlock rights to the music you want to use. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Occasionally, you might want to use a song someone else wrote or recorded for a project or event of your own. To do this, you should request permission first from the publisher or recording company or both. Writing a formal permissions letter usually is the best way to get permissions, because you will have evidence of the rights granted in writing if the publisher or record company responds.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheet music (optional)
  • CD jackets (optional)

Determine what permissions you need. If you need to use some or all of a recording, you'll need to contact both the record company and the music publisher. If you just want permission to use the music to make your own recording, you only need to contact the publisher.

Look up the name of the publisher and recording as necessary. Oftentimes, this information is located on the sheet music or CD jacket. Alternately, you can find the contact information you need by contacting the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC) (see Resources).

State the purpose of your letter—to obtain copyright permission—in the first sentence of the letter, including the name of the song, the artist and any other identifying information such as a publication number. For instance, write something like "This letter is written to request permission to use the song, 'Generic Piece,' by Some Composer, 2011 remix version." Explain why you are requesting the permission; for example, you want to use the recording in an amateur film.

List the exact permissions you are requesting from the music publisher or recording company. Specify exactly why each permission is necessary and how you intend to use the granted rights given the overall goal expressed in Step 3. Also, indicate the date by which the permissions are necessary.

Ask that the publisher or record company send you its standard permissions form(s). If the company does not issue these forms, alternately, state that the publisher or recording company can indicate their agreement with your request by signing and returning your letter. Provide a clear area for the signature if you do this, or send them a separate short form that indicates the permissions requested and gives a signature space.

Tips & Warnings

  • Because the permissions request letter is a business letter, use only standard business formats. Typically, this means 1-inch margins, plain white paper, single spacing except between paragraphs, block paragraphs, formal subject, date, closing and salutation lines and contact information for both you and the recipient.

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