You're making a video and want to add high-quality music that provides the perfect vibe for your concept. If you add copyright music without permission, the video you publish might get taken down or you could end up in a lot of legal hot water.
Before you share a video online, you must get permission from the copyright holder for any piece of music you use. But how can you get the go-ahead to use a song, especially if it's by a big-name artist? Here's a guide for learning how to use copyright music without copyright infringement.
Steps for Using Copyright Music Without Infringement
Before seeking out a copyright license for music, first look at other options, such as using music that you wrote and recorded yourself. Most people avoid this since they lack quality recording equipment, musical ability, or time.
Another option is to use music in the public domain, which is free for everyone. In the US, this applies to all music over 96 years old. Check with The Public Domain Information Project for more details.
You need a license to use music that's not in the public domain and has been copyrighted. Some creators retain the copyright but make their work available for reuse by getting a Creative Commons music license. Other music owners make specific songs available royalty-free — so you pay a one-time fee for unlimited use instead of paying for each use individually. However, it is important to note that there are differences between copyright-free and royalty-free music.
After reviewing the steps for using copyright music without infringement, here is how to get copyright permission for music.
Obtain a Master Use License and a Synchronization License
The first step in gaining a copyright music license is to figure out who owns the rights. A piece of recorded music often has more than one rights holder, so be prepared to do some digging.
You should obtain two licenses from the music owners: a master use license and a synchronization, or "sync," license. A sync license allows you to use both the lyrics and the score from the original musical composition. These rights are usually owned by the publisher, composer, or lyricist. The sync license allows you to record a cover version of the song for your video, for example.
If you want a specific sound recording, the record label and the performers often own these rights. A master use license will allow you to use the original recording.
Reach Out to a Music Rights Organization Like SESAC
You don't need to contact your favorite artist directly to use their music, but it may not be easy to identify the music publisher or record company that holds the copyright.
The easiest way to obtain permission for a song is to find it on a site specializing in selling music rights. The largest performance rights organizations in the U.S. are The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), Broadcast Music, Inc., and Global Music Rights. Each site has a searchable catalog of songs and provides instructions for contacting copyright holders. Licensing music from a reputable source guarantees you have the rights you are promised.
SESAC collects royalties for some music, so you may be able to request a sync license directly from them if they have the desired song. Members can only belong to one of these main organizations, so if you don't find the soundtrack you want in the first site's music library, keep searching.
Communicate With the Record Label or Copyright Owner Directly
After you’ve applied for a sync license, you'll need to get the master use license from the record label unless you’re producing a cover of the music for your video.
Do some research to figure out which record label owns the rights to the song. Then contact their licensing or legal department to ask for a master use license. Write a letter or email with the following information:
- Who you are
- The piece of music or soundtrack you want to use
- How and where you will use the music
See the Stockmusic.net guide on the types of licensing available for more information.
Negotiate a Licensing Deal
The rights owners may contact you to negotiate your license request and any royalties. The cost to license a copyrighted piece of music can vary greatly. Independent artists may ask for less than $100, but a track by a major artist or label can run into the thousands. In your initial correspondence, ask them to sign and return the email or letter giving their explicit permission once you’ve agreed on the licensing deal.
If you expect your usage or views to be low, you may get permission to use the track for free. If you aim to monetize your video or profit from its production, expect to pay a fee.
Generally, there are two types of licensing deals: pay-per-use and unlimited use. You and the rights holder need to agree on the type of deal that works for both of you.
With this license, you'll pay a small sum every time your video plays.
Unlimited Use License
This license allows for unlimited use of the audio for a fixed amount of time.
What Happens if You Are Accused of Copyright Law Infringement?
Even if you had no ill intent or added a small amount of background music to your video, using music without permission can lead to serious copyright infringement. So, platforms like YouTube are very strict about unlicensed music. It can redirect any ad revenue to the copyright holder, take your video down, or even suspend your account.
A violation of the law can also be disruptive to your brand image. No one likes receiving cease and desist letters, and if you are found to be in violation of copyright law, the fines can be high. You could also be sued, leading to expensive fees and settlements.
Applications and Use Cases for Copyrighted Music
Copyrighted music can be used in a variety of contexts, such as commercial or non-profit videos and by these professionals:
- Video producers
- Video editors
- Sales and marketing teams
- Creative agencies
- Video game designers
- YouTube influencers
- Radio producers
Find the Best Royalty-Free Music and Sound Effects for Your Next Project
With some planning and the correct licenses, you can create, broadcast, stream, post, and share videos without any anxiety about whether the audio breaches copyright law.
Looking for the soundtrack to your next video masterpiece? There's a far simpler, headache-free alternative to applying for copyright licenses. Plug your headphones in and sample Stockmusic.net's extensive catalog of high-quality royalty-free music. Then, simply create an account, add desired tracks to your basket, and check out.