Mercedes collaborated with The Weeknd on the launch of their electric EQC model by releasing an epic brand film starring the Weeknd that tied in with a comeback single announcing his new album, released shortly after the launch of the campaign. The Weeknd is credited as a Creative Director of the campaign and wrote Blinding Lights with the model launch, single and music video release in mind.
Universal Music Group and Brands was responsible for the artist collaboration, song production and recording rights and Tracks & Fields was hired to clear the copyrights.
Music rights for branded use require negotiation of several different kinds of rights and this project touches the entire range of rights that need to be considered.
Talent: The Weeknd was performing in the commercial as an actor which includes an agreement including details of performance, shooting schedules and any other matters related to the participation on the production of the commercial and its workflows.
Testimonial/ Name, Image, Likeness: A popular artist is both an influencer as well as a brand. Testimonial deals involve active participation, while name, image and likeness need to be licensed.
Product Placement/ Sponsorship: The Weeknd used a Mercedes Benz car in the official music video of Blinding Lights which was released a month after the campaign.
Music Production: The Weeknd is being credited as Creative Director and the music was created during his collaboration with Mercedes Benz.
Master Use: The rights to use the recording of Blinding Lights, owned by his record label.
Usage of Cover Art: Using cover art in a commercial requires permission from the record label, who might or might not ask for an additional fee. Most car commercials use original cover art when showcasing the vehicle’s dashboard. The single and album did not exist, but The Weeknd is referencing the title by saying “Hey Mercedes, play Blinding Lights”.
Copyright Use: The right to use the underlying composition and lyrics written by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), Max Martin, Oscar Holter, Larry Steinbachek and Jason Quenneville, represented by Kobalt Music Group, Warner Chappell and Universal Publishing Music Group. Music publishers are not part of the negotiations when a writer and co-writer write a new song or when writers produce commissioned work for a brand or film. They are, however, the exclusive representative for their writers for any use of a registered work. In these cases, you need to negotiate with each of the publishers for their share based on 100% of the copyright. In case a publisher who represents 5% demands higher payments or restrictions in the contract, their negotiation gains increase the payouts pro rata or change terms for all other publishers as well.
Personality Rights: This right typically is not being actively discussed. It protects the personality of a copyright owner against uses of his works that felt misrepresented by. Copyright contracts therefore include an approval clause of the creative concept or even final edit. While the law typically doesn’t grant this right to performing artists, some courts have ruled that they receive similar protection.
Union Fees: USA and UK have strong unions for session musicians and singers that require additional fees when using a recording their members participated in. Today, most global offices of major music labels include a clause that the licensee is responsible for paying AFM (American musicians), SAG-AFTRA (American singers) or Musicians Union (British musicians).
Performance & Broadcasting Rights: Once performed and broadcasted on media channels, additional fees are being paid to the rights holders through local performing rights organisations like PRS, GEMA, BMI, ASCAP, SACEM, JASRAC etc. In most cases, the fees are the responsibility of the media owner such as the TV station, but the licensee will be required to properly file the proper copyright information with the media.
Clearing a famous copyright before it exists:
In the case of Blinding Lights, we had a very unusual situation. On the one hand it was clear that the moment the campaign launched, the song would become one of the biggest songs of 2019. At the same time, at the time of rights clearance, it did not exist and neither us or the publishers had heard a version of the song yet. It was also not clear yet how copyright shares between writers were distributed. In addition, given The Weeknd’s role in the campaign overall, it had the characteristic of a commissioned work as well as a commercially released track and it was crucial to fully understand its implications in the negotiations and clearances.
Since it was not clear who will own how much of the track, we had to take a guess in order to get negotiations started. Since The Weeknd was a writer himself and famous hitmaker Max Martin was enlisted as a co-writer we decided to clear those two rights simultaneously, knowing that those two together most likely will have the biggest share and authority in this process and negotiated with all relevant parties on a 100% basis.
You can see an overview on our Music Negotiation Table:
Through this technique we ended up being able to clear 100% of the copyright in a very short time frame and on budget. Contracts were only drafted months later when the copyright splits were decided and publishers knew how much each of them could license, but this way the client knew the full costs of the music copyright usage of a future hit single, even before the copyright existed.
Here is the final film:
The song Blinding Lights by The Weeknd was released for the first time in the Mercedes Benz campaign and eventually became a global #1 hit.
When the campaign was released, thousands of media outlets reported on the unique partnership.
The campaign is shortlisted for Best Use Of Music at The One Show and won a Bronze at Art Directors Club.
Managing Music rights clearances early brings peace of mind over the total budget. Often, key information on the usage is still missing at early stages. Typically, that applies to campaign and creative details, but even if key information such as who actually created the song does not even exist yet, it is possible to negotiate everything else.
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