Even in 2021, the music industry faces many legal challenges. 27% of music listeners still consume music using unlicensed methods, such as illegal music streaming and piracy. This is one of the many reasons why your favorite songs have strict copyright infringements for unauthorized use. One of the most common examples of music copyright infringement is uploading songs to a video, website, and other forms of media. If record labels get word of what you’re doing, your media risks deletion until you remove the music. This is why video creators and other media professionals need to understand the basics of copyrighted music. Here’s your guide to what songs you can use for your videos.
What Is Copyrighted Music?
First, let’s cover the basics. What exactly is copyrighted music? In short, a copyright is a legal ownership that an individual or entity has over a created piece. In this example, the musician and/or label owns the copyright to the music.
Copyrights can be applied to just about any created piece. This can include books, movies, scripts, artwork, and more. In order for music to gain a copyright, it has to be fixed in a tangible form, such as a recorded song affixed to an album.
Since copyrights extend to just about all mediums, a band’s music may not be the only thing that has copyrights. Artists can copyright their logo, band photographs, album cover art, and even music videos.
There are some things a copyright can’t protect. For example, a copyright can’t protect a band name. But that doesn’t mean these factors don’t receive outside protection. Even though a band can’t copyright their name, they could trademark their name in their country or even internationally so no one can take it.
Where can you use copyrighted music? Do you want to use a song in your media but are asking yourself, “is this song copyrighted?” Technically, you can use copyrighted music anywhere. You just have to gain a license and pay the artist royalties. We will cover royalties in the next section.
What Is Royalty-Free Music?
Let’s say you create videos and want to use music for YouTube videos. Many video creators gravitate toward royalty-free music. But what does this mean? Royalty-free is a license that simplifies music licensing.
In most cases, if you were to use an artist’s music, you would have to pay royalties. Royalties are payments made to the owner of an asset (in this case, the musician who wrote the music) for the right to use the music.
Royalty-free music takes away the need to pay royalties. There are different music licenses that apply to free royalty-free music. But if you’re paying for the music, the buyer will only need to pay for the music license once and use that piece of music however many times they need.
This is especially important if your work plays on a recurring basis. Let’s say you made a movie and featured a band’s song in the film. You would have to pay the band their royalties with each movie sale. This is why the royalty-free license is beneficial. It not only simplifies music licensing laws but buyers can save a significant amount of money.
Why Should You Pay for Royalty-Free Music?
Just because music is royalty-free doesn’t mean the music is free to use. But if royalty-free music is available at no cost, why should you pay for it? There are a few reasons why:
- Paid music is usually higher quality
- Can usually modify the music
- More legal protection
- Can’t attribute the music to the author
In addition, paid royalty-free music isn’t readily available to the public. The music you use is unique. When you use free music, you’ll likely find that same score throughout the internet.
Because this music may be available at a high price, paid royalty-free music is best used for professional purposes. Commercials are the most common example, but you can find paid royalty-free music on YouTube videos, weddings, documentaries, films, presentations, video games, and podcasts.
Free Music Licenses
If you don’t want to pay for your royalty-free music, you’ll have to look for some specific licenses. The two most common licenses are Creative Commons and Public Domain.
Creative Commons means the musician and/or whoever owns the license is free to decide who can distribute, reproduce, and copy the work. Because these vary, you’ll always want to pay attention to any limitations when using their music.
Here are common limitations you’ll see.
- Non-Commercial (BY-ND): can’t make money off of the song
- Attribution (BY): most acknowledge and credit the authorship (i.e. the musician who made the song)
- ShareAlike (BY-SA): must abide by the license owner, even if you build upon or transform the song (such as remixing it)
- No Derivate Works (BY-NC-ND): must not create a derivative work (i.e. remix it)
Fortunately, most license owners are pretty flexible. If you have any licensing questions, you can always ask the music creator themselves or a lawyer about the legalities.
Music in the public domain isn’t protected by any copyright. In other words, you can use the work however you want without paying the artist.
Why is this? Technically, music and any art in the public domain are owned by everyone — even though not everyone created it. That means anyone can still distribute, copy, adapt, and display the work. Since you’re not the original creator, the artist has ownership of the piece, usually in the sense of the original form. In music, this will be ownership of the composition, lyrics, etc.
This is where covers come into play. Whether you’re covering a Beethoven score or a song by your favourite metal band, you can cover the song under the Public Domain license. You can even own the recording of you covering the song. However, you have to state it’s a cover since you don’t own the composition or lyrics.
Learn More About Entertainment
Now that you know about copyrighted music, are you interested in learning more about entertainment topics? Continue reading our blog!