Do Olympic figure skaters have to allow music in their program?

Last week, Team USA’s Nathan Chen won olympic gold after his free skating routine, performed to a medley of Elton John songs from the 2019 biopic Rocketman. The victory sparked a congratulations tweet from the Rocket Man himself, which, judging by the fact that he mentions no copyright infringement, seems to suggest that proper music licensing protocol was followed.

So what exactly is this protocol?

When producers wish to include copyrighted songs in filmed programs such as TV shows or movies, they must acquire a synchronization license, or “sync license”, essentially allowing them to sync music to their own video footage. As The New York Times reportssynchronization license fees can sometimes be prohibitive if the song is by an Elton John-level superstar.

Luckily for figure skaters, their Olympic routines are considered live performances and therefore require a much less expensive licensing agreement. Luckily for figure skaters, they are quite far from paperwork and payment. Instead, the broadcaster – in this case, NBC – is responsible.

As IPWatchdog explains, many musicians and music publishers outsource the licensing of their entire catalogs to public rights organizations (PROs) such as Broadcasting Music Inc. (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Television networks, performance venues and other music broadcasting establishments can then purchase a blanket license that grants them public performance rights to every song under the PRO’s jurisdiction. General license fees are not uniform; they depend on everything from audience size to frequency, and licensees are often expected to track their music usage so PROs can determine artist royalties.

But the bottom line is this: if you skate for “Run the World (Girls)” during your Olympic program, what France Maé-Bérénice Meite did at the 2018 PyeongChang Games – rest assured that NBC took care to ensure Beyoncé received her check.

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