That’s actually a bit surprising, given that it can have huge consequences for both companies and individuals using sound effects, the projects those sounds are used in - and for those who've created the sound effects in the first place.
The good news is that getting proper licensing in place is a lot easier than you might think: In this guide, we’ll give you an overview of what to look out for, how to solve any current issues, why correct licensing (really!) matters - and why it's never been simpler to get licensing right than it is now:
• When to think about multi-user licenses
• Get the 1-page guide to easy multi-user licensing
• Single and Multi-users, defined
• Why take the effort to get multi-user licensing right (and what can happen if you don’t)?
• What to do if you discover improperly licensed sounds in your company
• What if you’re working with freelancers – or you’re a freelancer yourself?
• How do you handle current collections?
• What can be done going forward?
• Summing up
Getting sound effects has never been easier or more affordable: It’s extremely simple to just get a single user license for a sound effects library via a site like A Sound Effect, then go on to use those sounds in projects that are enjoyed by millions of people around the world and take in millions (and sometimes, literally billions) of dollars.
And – unlike traditional music licensing – the licensing fee for sound effects doesn’t increase just because those sounds are used on projects with such a huge reach and impact.
In the heat of the battle, it can be easy to lose track of whether the licenses actually fit the team size
One thing about those large projects, though, is that they’re rarely a solo effort. They’re typically done by large teams of creatives, including many in the sound department – and in the heat of the battle, it can be easy to lose track of whether the licenses actually fit the team size. That’s one place where multi-user licensing becomes something to keep in mind and get right.
When to think about multi-user licenses:
– there are several audio workstations, or a team of sound designers.
– the audio team may have increased in size since the licenses were originally acquired.
– sounds are stored on an internal network, and no-one has an overview of who can access it.
– lots of single user licenses have been purchased, since this was a quick and easy way to get the sounds you needed (but several people are now using them).
– you have amassed a large sound collection over the years, with no clear overview of licensing.
– team members may have added their personal collections to the company database, effectively making it available to the whole company without even thinking about the licensing issues resulting from that (this is a very common issue)
Other licensing problems could be that.. well, there are no licenses in place at all, the licensing proof/documentation has gone missing, sounds are licensed to individual SFX creators rather than the company – and in case of mergers/company takeovers, licensed to the wrong company.
Those are all situations where the regular single user license likely won’t work – and the licensing situation definitely needs to be looked at. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier than it may sound.
Those are all situations where the regular single user license likely won’t work – and the licensing situation definitely needs to be looked at. The good news is that it’s a lot easier than it may sound
These issues rarely apply to freelancers/indie sound designers, but even here, it’s a good idea to check whether your licenses fit with your current structure and way of working:
Perhaps you’ve teamed up with other creatives since you started out and built your sound effects collection. Maybe some sounds have ended up in your collection that you aren’t completely sure where came from. Or it could be that you’re asked to work on-site where others can access your sound collection too.
In scenarios like that, give some thought to whether your licensing is right, to protect yourself and your clients, your work, and the content you deliver.
To do our part in making it easy to get multi-user licensing right, we’ve greatly simplified the process for that here on A Sound Effect. Instead of having to contact us for a manual quote, you can simply pick the number of user licenses you need on checkout. Multi-user discounts are automatically added.
And, if your needs have changed since you made an older order, just find the relevant order on your account, click Re-Order and get the number of users you need for that order.
Single and Multi-users, defined:
When do you need a single user license?
A) You’re a freelancer working on your own, or
B) you’re a company with 1 audio workstation and/or 1 sound designer
= A single user license is needed
When do you need a multi-user license?
A) You have multiple workstations or a team of sound designers, and/or
B) you run an audio server that can be accessed by multiple users
= each workstation/user needs a license
This is the basic multi-user licensing setup on A Sound Effect, and generally a good rule of thumb. However, there are other sound library suppliers and distributors that have specific rules that may differ from the way outlined above – check in with them to hear how it works there.
If you’ve got a multi-user usage case related to sounds from A Sound Effect which doesn’t fit with the one above, do get in touch and we’ll find a solution.
On a side note: One thing that people sometimes ask is whether the user count has anything to do with how many end-users can use a given product? The answer is no, a ‘user’ in this context means someone working with the sounds, not the number of people who will be using/watching/hearing the end-product or project you’re working on.
Why take the effort to get multi-user licensing right
(and what can happen if you don’t)?
They are often people who work in film or game audio as their main line of work, and library creation is then done on the side when time and resources permit it. Their work is driven by a passion for sound – and it sort of has to be, as the financial rewards are typically small.
This also means that each and every license sale goes a long way to motivate the sound effects creators to continue, help them support themselves in a sometimes volatile audio industry, and enable them to keep improving the content they create.
Each and every license sale goes a long way to motivate the sound effects creators to continue, help them support themselves in a sometimes volatile audio industry, and enable them to keep improving the content they create
Oh, and at the end of the day, one could reasonably argue that it’s fair that they’re getting compensated for the usage that takes place.
From a cost perspective, sound effects licensing typically only constitutes a small part of the overall cost of a production – while sound effects have a huge impact on the quality of the final product. So the cost involved are usually low, while the potential cost resulting from unlicensed usage can be pretty high.
From a time perspective, getting licensing right from the get-go also prevents any last-minute delays in getting everything cleared – delays that could potentially stall your product launch or project release.
And from a legal perspective, there are good reasons too – here are some of the risks when using improperly licensed sounds:
(Please note this is for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. In particular, it cannot replace individual legal advice which takes into account the particularities of a specific case)
● The product in which the sounds are being used illegally can be forced to be taken off the market by the original rights owner. This can be extremely costly.
● The original rights owner can ask for damages & loss = retroactive license payments for the usage of the sounds (which does not necessarily cover any further future usages)
● The original rights owner can file a cease-and-desist, with the extra twist that if such misuse / unlicensed usage happens again, the damages increase with every case
Sound effects licensing typically only constitutes a small part of the overall cost of a production – while sound effects have a huge impact on the quality of the final product
● Both the content producer and the publisher could get into serious problems by making unlicensed sounds available to the public. This is a big risk to not only larger publishers, but smaller companies too, like audio outsourcing studios and audio freelancers:
If they provide assets to their clients based on unlicensed sound libraries, their clients will get into trouble first (because they are the ones releasing the content) and this will subsequently fire back on the originator. That will cause legal and financial issues and burn all bridges to a client for the audio freelancer / service provider.
● The risks are basically exactly like with unlicensed music, where technology has lead to tracking down such unlicensed usages more and more. The same is happening with sound effects now: Solutions exist that are able to identify specific sound recordings and sound effect masters, giving the rights holders the chance to check if the licensing is correct.
So there are many reasons to get – and do – things right when it comes to licensing.
What to do if you discover improperly licensed sounds in your company:
This also means that you may come across sound collections you’re just not sure about in terms of licensing: It could be older libraries, libraries brought in by external contractors – or maybe you know that your team has recently grown since you first got those sounds.
If you’re working as a sound designer, editor, audio lead, purchaser or similar, chances are you have a much better feel for what’s in your company’s sound arsenal than anyone else
If so, it might be a good idea to bring this up with your legal/licensing/purchasing division, or the person in charge of your department. Once resolved – and your company will be interested in that too, to avoid becoming exposed to any risks – you’ll know it’s safe to use the sounds you have available, and that indie SFX creators are being fairly compensated for their work.
And who knows, you may one day become one of those indie SFX creators yourself, too.
What if you’re working with freelancers – or you’re a freelancer yourself?
If you’re bringing freelancers onboard to work on-site, and other members of your sound team can access his or her sound collection too, you’ll need a license for your team as well. So it makes sense to avoid getting the collections mixed up unless needed – and in cases where it is needed, to get proper licensing in place so your team can use the sounds too.
But what if you’re the one working as a freelancer/independent sound designer? As previously mentioned, it’s a good idea to go through your collection, ensure that licenses are in place for everything – and that you can document it upon request – , and that the user counts fit your current way of working.
How do you handle current collections?
Do a license review by checking out what’s currently on your servers and workstations, and that licenses exist for those libraries.
Even with libraries where you’re reasonably certain that a license is in place; if you can’t find that license, you have no way of documenting and proving you’re in the clear, if someone should ever ask.
Also check whether proper licenses are in place for the actual number of users. Has the team size changed since you first got the license?
Once you’ve got an overview, it’s time to reach out to your distributor or the SFX creator to find a solution.
B: Clear up unlicensed usages and missing multi-user licenses:
It is extremely important to settle past unlicensed usages, to make sure already-released products are correctly licensed. In order to settle past usages, a general release is typically put in place that takes into consideration existing usage and already-paid licenses.
Updating to a correct number of licenses is usually not more expensive than getting the right licenses right from the start – and there are usually no damage fees if a client proactively clears up past unlicensed usages.
What can be done going forward?
And on A Sound Effect, things are even easier, as a brand new system has just been put in place that allows you to simply select the number of users you need, once you reach the checkout phase.
This greatly speeds up the process of getting the sounds you’re after, and at discounted multi-user prices too – with the added benefit that you don’t need to wait around for custom quotes or manual deliveries.
By getting licensing right, you’ll also support the sound community and independent sound effects creators. It may not be apparent from the outside, but each sale makes a massive difference to them and the whole community.
And if more sound effects users got multi-user licensing right, many more creators could do this for a living, support themselves and their families through their work – and ultimately, it would give them the resources to create even better sound libraries, to everyone’s benefit. Here’s to hoping!
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