I was thinking of creating an Android game/app that plays a soundtrack from a movie, and prompts you to guess what movie it is from. My question is: what are the legal ramifications of an app like this? eg. do I have to contact each composer, are there copyright laws about this, etc...
You are building a commercial application the relies on using someone else's copyrighted material.
The value of your application draws directly on the value of someone else's copyrighted material. How valuable would your application be if it was music that someone didn't recognize? My assumption is they recognize it because someone invested a lot of money in composing, producing, marketing and advertising it -- and they -- like you or I -- would prefer not to have others make money off of their investment.
You will need to have permission, and more than likely pay a fee.
Explore Alternatives? What if the initial version of the application pulled the music clips from their own library of music for the listener to guess? And then the next version to allow them to share and guess from someone else's collection? And then as you grew in popularity and revenue you could purchase the rights to collections of music that people could subscribe to that would test their knowledge -- or respond to them when they come to you. In this model a percentage of the users subscription to that music set could pay the royalties.
In this way you can postpone the need to figure this out -- and you focus on the Minimum Viability Product which is an application to test music recognition/knowledge in a fun and dynamic way.
Will you have the complete tracks for each movie score item?
will it be partial?
Obviously there's a chance of copyright infringement here. I'd go to see a lawyer and spend the $200 for one of his hours. This could save you taking your app off the store, in the good case, and perhaps finding yourself in hot water, having to pay a ludicrous sum of money in damages in the bad case.
Should you decide to use someone else's music as part of your site / app, you should expect them to want to be compensated. Further you should consider making it possible for the "user/player" to be able to link directly to a pay per track site like itunes to purchase the song directly should they so desire. You could work out an plan that would compensate the artist on a per click basis. This would allow the artist to view your app as another marketing / name recognition avenue rather than someone trying to profit off of their work. We all know the best way to get the neighbor to not complain about your party is to invite them!
Once you have developed a fair compensation plan, offer to all the artist you use in your app. This will allow you to standardize on a rate structure and show a consistent benefit to the artist. It's a very similar model to Pandora's which is working quite nicely!
Lastly, if you decide to just pay them, contact "The Harry Fox Agency" to find out what the statutory rates are per song for the length of the segment you will be using. It's not worth the headache once you are making money to then go back and try to do it right. You will still get caught by someone. Guaranteed.
Good luck with your endeavour.
I would go for it and not worry too much about copyright infringement in this case for a few reasons:
If ever your app got popular enough to attract the attention of rights-holders, I suspect the terms of a license would be relatively. On balance, I think this is a case in which you should try to build something very popular and ask for forgiveness rather than permission.