How To Legally Use Copyrighted Music in Your Marketing Video

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.

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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.

Read more: 5 myths about using copyrighted background music that can make your video disappear from YouTube

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:

http://www.ascap.com
http://www.bmi.com
http://www.sesac.com
http://www.loc.gov/copyright

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.

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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.

Related: Read This Before Using “Copyright Free” Music In Your Marketing Video

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?

Safe Music List - Royatly Free Music LibraryMy 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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About author

I'm Mik and I make background music for business and marketing use, corporate video, YouTube monetization channels, and short films. I offer my clients - small business owners, video marketers, and media creators - affordable and professional background music with flexible licensing terms. Download my music from the online catalog of ready-to-use soundtracks or contact me to have one created exclusively for your project. See who uses my music

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29 thoughts on “How To Legally Use Copyrighted Music in Your Marketing Video

  1. Hello Mik, thanks for your post.

    What if we use someone to make a cover of copyrighted music. Does that still involve copyright issues.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Joe,

      Yes, it does. You can freely record and distribute cover songs by paying a statutory royalty fee but if you want to use your cover version on a video, you still need to secure the sync license from the publisher (the owner of the music composition, that is, the owner of the original music and words that you re-recorded). Hope that answers your question.

      Mik

      1. Hi mik I was wondering if it’s illegal to use a copyrighted song for less then 20 seconds just to load on Facebook? And if I did what would happen? What if I take it off after a week?

  2. I am trying to find a way to uses music for videos with my university’s newspaper. We wouldn’t be making any money from the videos because they are more of promotional for the newspapers comments.

    1. Hi Alexa,

      There are many options available, from legit free music (check out YouTube’s own music library to start with) to ultra affordable royalty free music. Hope that helps.

      Mik

  3. Hi Mik, I had used an instrumental background music of a popular song for a video of certain shoe brand. I will upload it in Facebook for our page. Will it still be illegal even if I give credit to the composer and the very popular singer?

    1. Generally speaking, giving credit does not grant you any special rights, unless you’re using creative commons music that requires attribution. If you upload a popular song to Facebook, the chances are your video will be flagged.

  4. What do you do if there’s a muzak or muzak type system playing IN a store & you’re doing a video in that store and you have no way to turn off that music since the store is playing it ?
    I have no control over a speaker that’s blaring out music some 6-9 feet over my head and that permeates the sound through much of the store.
    I just did a video and got a copyright dispute and really don’t know what to do about this sort of thing.
    3 years ago I recorded a Halloween decoration video at a private home and one of the decorations was playing recorded music & I said to You Tube that since I have no control over the music & it was part of the decoration, there was NO way to turn it off as it was being played continuously.
    Any help on this would be appreciated as my vocal is on the video.
    I made NO attempt to monetize their music.

    1. Hi George,

      That’s a common issue and I don’t think there is a universal solution. For perfect results, I would replace the music and dub your vocals over, basically replacing the soundtrack. Or you could filter out the music and leave the vocals (similar process to making a ‘karaoke’ version of a song), this may work as well but it’s hard to say without seeing the video.

      Cheers!
      Mik

      1. I just read this comment and it made me think what if someone was up singing karaoke does that mean you cant record them and put the video online?

    1. In order to legally use copyrighted music, you must secure permission from the copyright owner, either directly (for instance, if you purchase a license to use my music) or through an intermediary, like a publisher, recording label or a production music marketplace.

      For promotional / commercial videos I strongly suggest using music that is explicitly cleared for commercial use. That is, read the license to make sure it grants you proper rights to use music in such context.

      The same applies to “free” music. Make sure it’s still free if you want to use it in a promotional video.

      Hope that helps!

      Mik

  5. Hey Mik,
    I would like to put copyrighted songs as background for home videos, specifically to share with family and friends on social media (Facebook). What do you suggest?
    Thanks

  6. What if I have a guest on my show on my Chanel and they come with their music can I still be liable for license or royalties even if they are part of the show.

    What u meant is that I have a tv show where I invite musicians on YouTube channel to promote their music and most of them are popular artists. So what happens then?

    1. If they are part of your show, I assume they’re giving you permission to use their music and will be willing to clear any copyright claims if it comes to that.

  7. Hi – I’m wanting to use Santa Claus Is Coming to Town instrumental in the background of a video for a client. This is a promotional video for their brand and they want this song for their Christmas video. I’ve researched and found that this isn’t in public domain and we will need to purchase a license. We don’t have a ton of time to wait so I’m just wondering if you have any direction you could send me?
    THANKS!

  8. Hi there,

    If I create a video using apps such as ” Slideshow” that aready has built in music- is that safe to share on a business/start up page?

    1. Hi! I would assume so but I’m not familiar with “Slideshow” specifically, so it’s best to ask them directly to be sure. If you want specific music with safe-use warranty you can license some of my tracks ;-P or check out TunePocket, they give unlimited access to their entire library for a moderate annual fee.

  9. It is sad that it is still practically impossible to buy rights to use popular music. I suspect so many great projects never see the light of day because of this. Sad.

    1. Perhaps.. however affordable stock music is extremely high quality these days and there are many talented producers who can make soundalikes on request in any genre imaginable.

  10. Hi,
    My daughter take voice lesson and I recorded her singing the karaoke version of someone like you. my video was remove from Facebook: ((((We were required to remove that content because we received a report from Universal Music Group that the content violates their copyrights. They’ve chosen to report your content because they believe you don’t have the sync rights for the musical composition from them.))) do I need to buy sync right to post someone practicing a song?

    Thanks

    1. When you purchase music from Amazon, iTunes, etc you are purchasing for personal use only and not getting any sync or broadcast rights. If you want to use this music in videos or commercial projects you will need to arrange for a license from the publisher / label.

  11. Hello.

    I’d like to include the Piano Guys version of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” / Amazing Grace as background to a video with our mission statement scrolling. Our goal is to help the healthcare industry become more reliable and prevent harm to its patients. Please advise on how we can do this legally.

    Thank you

    1. You need to contact the publisher / recording label for permission or settle for a stock music track with similar vibe.

  12. Hi Mike .. I am wanting to use a cover version of a popular song with the same initial line and then change the second line to suit our business advertising campaign. Same music same first three words and then change the next line (probably 5 words but same music as original song….. This will be used as a tagline jingle of sorts. What kind of license and approximately what would it cost and how often?

  13. What if i create a live recording of a band at a concert. Do I have the right to use that music in my videos.

  14. You make a good point that if a business is making a video or doing a project that they should never use unlicensed copyright music since the Recording Industry Association of America could go after them for infringement. It would be smart for them to hire a company to make the music for their video and then they wouldn’t have to worry about it. The business should listen to different samples from companies to see their style before choosing too to see if they follow regulations and have a sound they like.

  15. I have an issue, our charity sings gongs that have copyright attached to them and played by an accompanist, can I put a comment in the description of the video saying the music is copyright to…?

    We don’t want to step on toes of the owners of the music.

    Thanks.

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