Using music adds a lot of impact, emotion, and professionalism to a video and you want to include it whenever appropriate. But it’s important to make certain that you have the right to use it. Copyright infringement is not something you want to be a part of and can result in a very expensive lawsuit.
Here are a few guidelines in regard to copyright for music. Please DO NOT take this for legal advice. We here at Chisel Multimedia are not lawyers, and you should always consult with an attorney with your legal questions. This article may help you understand the general idea of copyright and what options you have available.
Copyright law permits use of copyrighted material without permission under some circumstances. These circumstances are described as “fair use.” Fair use is governed by these four factors:
1. The purpose and character of the use. Some uses are classically considered fair, including criticism, parody, and music news reporting. If your use of the music is noncommercial and educational, it’s more likely (although not certain) that you meet the fair use requirements. If you’re charging for the video or using it to promote a product, the standards are much tighter.
2. The nature of the copyrighted work itself. Highly creative work is more tightly protected than things like scientific data or historical quotes. Assume music falls into the “highly creative” category and will be well protected.
3. How much of the copyrighted work you’re using. All or most of a song works against against fair use, compared to using only a portion or segment of it.
4. What effect does using the music have on the expected market value? If the music is playing on streaming platforms is likely to cost the copyright owner substantial sales, that reduces the chance that a court would consider it fair use.
Ultimately, the jig on fair use is, don’t take chances. Unless it’s obvious and well established that what you’re doing with the music constitutes fair use, don’t count on it. If you’re writing an article about the band itself, that’s probably all right. Otherwise, be very careful.
Copyright doesn’t last forever. When a song is old enough, it enters the public domain. You can use any public domain song in any way without fear of legal repercussions and copyright restrictions do not apply.
How old is old enough? That varies from country to country and also by the date of original creation. Current U.S. copyright law protects a song until 70 years after the death of the composer.
It’s also important to remember that copyright protects the recordings, performances as well as composition. The variation by individual song is so wide that it’s best to check that a song or performance is in the public domain and not just assume it is because it’s old.
Another circumstance in which a song might be available for use in a video is under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a choice by the creators of music and other forms of art to publish their work under these rules. It’s a nonprofit organization for which musicians and other artists belong to. A Creative Commons license varies in the details, but might allow people to incorporate their song into videos or other compositions for free. The license does require acknowledgement of the copyright holder, and some other restrictions may apply.
It’s a good idea to explore the specifics of the license and not just assume that a work published under Creative Commons is free to do whatever you want with it. There may be some provision to the license allowing it to be played but not synced to any sort of video images. Free Music Archive is one website among many that offer CC licensed music. Check them out but again, be diligent in understanding the specifics of use.
If a song is neither in the public domain or published under a Creative Commons license, the only way you can legally use it in a video is with the permission from the copyright holder. You can usually find the copyright owner with the information which will accompany the recordings or on download sites.
In most cases with commercial music, the copyright holder for a performance is the record company. For independent artists music, it may be the artist, or record company established by the artist for legal purposes. Whomever it may be, that’s the person or company that has to give you permission. Of course, they will probably want money for the privilege. We all gots to get paid, right!
If in the end you’re successful in your negotiation, you’ll be issued a license for the use you have requested. This license will be specific and will probably not give you license to use the song in any other way. Be sure you understand these terms clearly. This is without doubt the most expensive way to obtain music for a video. If you have to have a particular piece of music, this may be your only option.