Music Licensing For Your Video


Understanding copyright and music for your videos

To begin with, copyright is intellectual property law in the United States. It gives the creator sole ownership of their work.  That means the creator of a song or someone they have chosen to represent them is the only one who can give permission for someone else to record, use, copy, or sell their music.  Therefore, if you want to use a specific song in your video you must get written permission, known as licensing, from the creator.

Contrary to popular belief the creator does not have to file a request with any government agency or body for the copyright to take place.   This protection exists from the time the song was documented.  The composer wrote it down or a performer recorded it, the song is protected under copyright law. The same is true if you animate characters and place a 30-second clip online, someone else can not come along and decide to use that character design in their commercial.  If they do,  you can bring legal action against them.

In order to protect yourself and your business from being on the wrong side of a legal issue, you need to understand the basics of music licensing your video.


Aren’t Some Songs In The Public Domain?

Public Domain can be a tricky subject, especially when discussing music.  According to Ingrassia, original sheet music before 1925 is in the public domain in the United States.  Even though we often think of music as a recording of sound but is almost always written down first.

In the United States, sheet music published before 1925 is considered public domain which simply means anyone can use it for any purpose without permission or making any payments. That said, recordings are under copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years. Between that time and the most recent changes in copyright law, no recording will be in the public domain until at least 2067.
So what does that mean for your video soundtrack?

Let’s assume you want to use Beethoven’s 9th as the background for your video.  The composition is public domain but that does not mean you can use a recording performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that was recorded in 2015.  The orchestra or performer owns the copyright to their recorded performance.

In many cases, music consists of 2 creators.  The person who wrote the song and the person who performed it. As an example, a song has a composer who wrote the musical score, the lyricist who wrote the words.  You need to get permission from everyone involved to license the song. Most professional songwriters and publishers belong to a handful of performing rights societies allowed to grant permission and collect payments.  You can contact them to find out who owns the song and then work with the society to get music licensing for the video.

Here is a list of societies and music licensing companies:

  • – ASCAP
  • – BMI
  • – SESAC

If you are unable to find the song on a professional society database, you can try to contact PRS for Music, formerly known as the Performing Rights Society.

You need to contact the rights holder and tell them who you are and how you would like to use the song and then pay the required fee.  Make sure you understand the rights you are purchasing.  The agreement might limit how you can use the song.


The Common Types Of Licenses

There are several types of licenses depending on how the music will be used and distributed.  The most important types of music licensing for videos are master licensing and a synchronization license.

The master license will let you use a pre-recorded version of the song in your video.  You cannot re-record the song or perform any edits.  Also, the synchronization license gives you permission to use the song in visual media such as a commercial, television show, or in a movie.

Regarding both these licenses, you must pay attention to the terms of the agreement.  It could include time and channel restrictions.  Time restrictions will let you know how long you can hold the rights while channel restriction dictates where the music will be used.  As an example, a one-year web would let you use the music for one year in videos shared on the internet.  You will not be able to use the music or song in a broadcast commercial.

The cost for these licenses can vary depending on where it will be played, how many people will hear it, the type of media where the song will be heard, and how the song will be used such as background music, theme song, end credits, and the experience or popularity of the creator.  The more people who hear it and the more prominently the song is featured, the more you will have to pay for the license to use it.


What Is Royalty-Free Music?

If going through everything for licensing music, you should consider royalty-free music.  There are several sites that offer royalty-free music for creators.  Just don’t be confused with the term “free” this means you do not have to pay a royalty fee for using the song.  That said, the rights still cost something.  You will have to pay a one-time licensing fee and it’s your responsibility to abide by the rules and regulations of the license.  If a work is copyrighted, assume it is, until you are told otherwise.

According to Ingrassia, always read the fine print in contracts and licenses.  On a website, scroll down to find and then read the terms before clicking I Agree.

Audioblocks does charge a monthly fee to allow downloads of a given number of songs or audio files each month.  Their very clear licensing agreement explains that all users get the same rights in spite of their payment level.

On the other hand, Tribe of Noise offers different licensing levels.  The amount you pay per song will determine what you will be allowed to do with a song.  These people also manage Free Music Archive where songs are offered for free to download and are theoretically allowed to use in any project. That said, different songs have different licensing terms and you could easily get in trouble unless you carefully read the license guides ahead of time.  A creative commons license is a good step but not foolproof.  Creative Commons has no registration process so anyone can claim a song as a Creative Commons license with the creator, directly.

What happens if I have hired someone to create the music for me?

Probably, the best way to stay away from copyright questions is to commission a piece from an artist. This is what movie studios do when hiring someone to create a soundtrack for their movie.

Using this approach, make sure you completely understand your agreement with the composer.  They may choose to charge an additional fee for a commercial use license. If you plan to use the song more than once, or might want to in the future, make sure you have the right to do so.


Other Things You Should Know About Music Licensing For Your Video

Even if you have the shortest clip in history, there can be headaches if you do not have permission.  Sampling is taking sections of music or sound and using it in another piece, it’s just not legal.  The U.S. Copyright Law does not have numbers for what is okay to use without permission.

We have all heard about DJs and rap artists who remix pieces of other songs.  Well, several have gone to court over that practice.  The bottom line, if you want to avoid legal issues, you are better off getting the creator’s express permission to use their work.

We have video project experts to help you get rights to songs.  We also work with composers to develop original scores.  We are here to help you find the right music for your video projects.

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