The steps you need to take if you want to use commercial music in your marketing or corporate video without violating copyrights
Either if you make marketing videos for your own small business or create content for your clients, you may find yourself in need of legal background music. As a rule of thumb, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to use any copyrighted material, even for non-commercial projects. In this post I am going to look at what you may need to do if you want to use copyrighted music in your video or media project.
One of the most common myths about using copyrighted music is that you can use any music you like as long as you clearly say that you don’t own it and give credit. I always found it kinda strange how people can believe that publicly admitting that they don’t own something somehow gives them the right to use it.
Let’s see what is that you really need to do if you want to use commercial music as the background music of your video.
When it comes to music, copyright may get tricky very fast. In many cases, the copyright is split between the record label and the publisher. The label controls the recording, while the publisher controls the song itself (i.e. the words and melody that appear in the recording of the song).
If you want to use a commercial song in your video, you must obtain two licenses – the synchronization license to use the song and the master license to use the recording of that song.
Synchronization licenses are administered by the publisher. The publishers may vary from large companies to individual songwriters who publish their own work. For the master licesnse you need to contact the recording label or, for independent artists, the artist directly.
The Harry Fox Agency used to be the one-stop destination to handle such requests but, as far as I know, that service was discontinued. However, you can search for publisher and label information using the sites below:
You can find a much bigger listing per country in Wikipedia.
If you can’t find it there get in touch with the artist and ask. I have to warn you that it may get prohibitively expensive or just impossible to license a specific track, so have a plan B. On a bright side, many indie artists will be very open to this kind of discussion.
Why should I care?
If you are simply making a home video to enjoy with your family, you probably shouldn’t be much concerned.
If you want to put this video on YouTube or share it on social media you should start considering the consequences that may range from YouTube removing the video to Recording Industry Association of America going after you for copyright infringement.
If you need background music for your business video or for a project you’re doing for client, then my suggestion is never use unlicensed copyrighted music.
Sounds complicated.. Is there an easier way?
Tracking down publisher’s contact information and negotiating the license may not be neither quick nor easy. Not to mention that, in many cases, using a popular commercial music track in your video may cost you a small fortune, not only in licensing fees but also in subsequent royalties paid either to the publisher or to the artist’s PRO (Performance Right Organization).
The easier way
The two biggest issues with negotiating the license on your own are time and money. If you are on the budget and can’t afford to pay for the background music for your videos, you can consider one of the following:
- Music already in Public domain. That covers compositions and recordings with their copyright expired. A word of caution. The copyright laws vary in different countries and so does the copyright expiration time. Furthermore, even if the composition itself is in public domain, the recording may be copyrighted. That’s ofter the case with classical and jazz records.
- Music available under Creative Commons license. That’s the case when the authors decide to share their music for free. However, there are different kinds of creative commons license, so pay attention to the details. Often you will be required to give credit, may be restricted from using the music in commercial projects, or will be obligated to share your work under the same terms.
Keep in mind, that even though it won’t cost you in terms of dollars, you may need to invest potentially substantial time to find the music that fits your needs. You will be searching through a vast pool of music that neither was specifically made to be used as background music, nor was made to adhere to any particular quality standard. Not to say that free music is bad (not at all!) but be ready to search through a really mixed bag.
Even easier way
If you are short on time but willing to spend some money consider purchasing royalty free stock music from a music library. Traditional stock music libraries cater to TV and film industries and may be somewhat pricey for individual producers.
More recently, a new kind of music libraries emerged offering budget-priced royalty free music for smaller clients, like freelance video producers, YouTubers, software developers, and so on.
Not sure what royalty free means? Read this post: What is royalty free music
A quick Web search will give you plenty of options to choose from in terms of both licensing terms and price. Just to give you an example, here are few songs I created for my clients:
Need more music?
My catalog is relatively small, so check out Safe Music List – a much bigger library with focus on music for marketing and promotional videos. All their music is affordable and available with life-time royalty free license.
In my follow-up post I’m discussing advantages and disadvantages of the above options in greater details and list some useful resources. Read more: Where To Find Great Background Music to Use in Low-Budget Videos
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