Category Archives: Music Licensing

The Public Domain – A Guide for Media Producers

What do these artistic works have in common?

  • Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
  • Hamlet
  • Moby Dick
  • Oh Susannah
  • America the Beautiful
  • Tarzan
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Answer: They are no longer protected by copyright law and are free for all to use. They are classified as being in the Public Domain.

These creative works, and thousands like them, are available for use by the public at no charge because their copyrights have expired or have somehow, been nullified.

The available public domain media include images, music, photos, illustrations, graphics, books, artworks and movies.

Generally speaking, US publications prior to 1923 are in the public domain. So you won’t find the latest bestsellers or any top ten hits. You will find the classic books from the start of this century and previous centuries, as well as the great musical masterworks from Bach to Tchaikovsky.

Copyright Limits
In the United States, works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. Those published in 1978 or thereafter are now protected for 70 years after the death of the creator, as are those in the European Community. In Canada and other countries, the period is life plus 50 years.

Misconceptions about Public Domain works
True or False…since Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Swan Lake, was composed in the 19th century and is now in the public domain, it can be freely used as background music in video or multimedia presentations?

The answer is True AND False

It is true that Swan Lake is no longer under copyright and this public domain music can be freely used without seeking permission from a publisher. In other words, you don’t have to pay anyone to acquire synchronization rights to be able to use the music of Swan Lake.

However, if you use an existing recording of Swan Lake in your work, that recording is protected by copyright and you would need to get permission from the record company to use it.

So yes, Swan Lake is public domain music and you could use it for free if you assembled your own ensemble of musicians and recorded your own version of it. But if you use someone else’s recorded version, you would need permission from them to be able to use their recording in your production.

This is an example of a public domain piece of music –  Jeux D’eau by Maurice Ravel. Though the work itself is in the public domain, this recording is fully copyrighted and would require a license to use in your work.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb when using music, images, graphics, or texts in your productions… If you didn’t personally create it, then you need permission to use it in your work unless the media in question has entered the public domain. For a detailed article about copyright permissions, Master Use and Synchronization Rights, see the article How to Use Music Legally in Your Work.

UniqueTracks Public Domain Classical Music
UniqueTracks offers a quick and easy way to legally license classical music recordings of music works that are in the public domain. When you purchase a license from UniqueTracks, you are acquiring master use rights to use the recordings in your projects and products with no further licensing or payments to us.

The UniqueTracks Stock Music Library licenses public domain classical stock music recordings for a variety of media use.  Classical music offers the benefit of time-tested melodies that have moved listeners for generations. Included in our series are movements from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets ” Swan Lake“, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker (Suite)“, the famous “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johan Strauss, Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” Vivaldi’s brilliant “Gloria” for choir and orchestra, numerous solo Piano Waltzes by Chopin, the “Air on a G String” by J S Bach, and Schubert’s “Fifth Symphony”.

Public Domain Sites, More Information
Project Gutenberg – A great site of public domain literature, Project Gutenberg is the oldest producer of free electronic books (eBooks or etexts) on the Internet. All may be freely downloaded and read and redistributed for non-commercial use.

Copyright Confusion by Neil Wilkinson
Clear and concise discussion of copyright from WritersWeekly.com

United States Copyright Office – Library of Congress. Lots of copyright information, also tells how to register your own work for copyright.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising, and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results.  UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.


Royalty Free Music, Sound Effects, and Animated Video Backgrounds

How To Use Music Legally In Your Work

When do I need a license to use music in my work?
You need to acquire a license when you want to take music that you have not personally created and use it as background music soundtrack in your production.  Acquiring a license gives you the legal right to include someone else’s copyrighted work as a part of your own work.

What is a Copyright?
Copyright is a federal law that protects creators by giving them exclusive rights to their works for a period of time.  Once a work is under copyright, it is considered copyright infringement (illegal) to use the work without the permission of the copyright owner.

How does copyright affect my decision to use music?
Music that has been recorded and issued on CD is protected by 2 copyrights.  To use a recording of a musical composition in your work, you need to get permission from both copyright holders.

The first permission you need is from the music’s publisher.  The music publisher holds the copyright for the actual written music – the melody, the lyrics, the accompaniment, the actual music as it would appear in sheet music.  This copyright is shown by using the familiar © symbol.

The second permission is for the recording itself.  To get this, you would approach the record company that released the recording.  The record company holds the copyright for the actual performance of the song captured and mastered on tape and released on CD.  The symbol for this copyright is the letter (P) inside a circle. (look on the back of your own Cds, you will see these symbols in use)

The fact that music is protected by copyright doesn’t mean you cannot use it, it simply means you have to seek permission to use it.  To receive that permission you will typically have to pay a licensing fee.

What licenses do I need?
Here are the licenses you need for the right to use music in your media project:

Synchronization License – This license is issued by the music publisher.  The Synchronization License (often abbreviated as “sync” license) gives you the right to “synchronize” the copyrighted music with your images and dialogue.

Note: Having a sync license means you have permission from the publisher to use the music but it doesn’t give you the right to use a specific recording of the composition.  For that, you need the following…

Master Use License – This license is issued directly from the record company. Fees can range from several hundred dollars to millions of dollars depending on the popularity of the music.

Once you have paid the music publisher for a Sync License and the record company for a Master Use license, you have the legal right to use the music in your production within the terms of the license you negotiated.

Sidebar
This article is about music that is under copyright and NOT in the public domain.  In the United States, music written before 1933 is in the public domain and can be used without having to acquire a synchronization license.  However, you will still need a master use license if you use a recording of a piece in the public domain.  Music written after 1933 is still under copyright according to US law.  Public Domain is defined and interpreted differently in Canada, Europe, and the UK. Here is an article with more detail about using public domain music.

How do I find out who owns the song rights?
If you don’t know the publisher of the song you want to license, you should contact the major Performance Rights Organizations like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.  These groups have large databases of composer and associated publisher song titles.  Another place to try is The Harry Fox Agency. This company mainly grants mechanical rights (for recording and existing song), but their database is also huge.

Music Clearance
As you can see from the process described above, licensing music can be a time-intensive, form-laden, and expensive process.  There are companies that just specialize in finding and processing the paperwork to get you the rights to a song. If you enter the term “Music Clearance” in a search engine, many music clearance companies will appear.  If you have a music supervisor on your project, he or she will also be experienced in music clearance.

A Licensing Alternative – Production Music
Using Production Music (also referred to as Stock Music), is the easiest way to quickly license music to use legally in your work. Production Music fills a niche for producers who don’t have a million dollar music budget and can’t afford to license a major hit song.  Production Music gives the smaller, independent producer the ability to use music soundtracks in his or her production.

Is Production Music under copyright?
Production music is protected by both the (C) and (P) copyrights.  When you buy a track from a production music library, you’ll receive a license agreement which grants you both synchronization and master use rights. It’s simple and easy to do.  For instance, at the UniqueTracks Stock Music site, your license and recorded master track can be downloaded right to your computer upon purchase.

Stock Production Music is not copyright-free as some have termed it.  It is fully protected by copyright law. With production music, you get the ease of licensing.  You don’t have to contact several sources to seek sync and master use licenses.  These licenses come bundled together and the rights granted are very wide.  A typical stock music license grants you permission to use the music in TV broadcasts, TV & Radio advertising, Internet streaming (great for YouTube videos) music-on-hold, apps & video games, in-store broadcast, and as corporate trade show products and giveaways.  Here is an example of a typical stock music license agreement.

Can I license a famous song from a production music library?
There are no production music pop hits.  You won’t find an Eminem track in a royalty free production music library.  To use an Eminem cut you would have to negotiate a license with Interscope Records.  That’s not to say you can’t find Hip Hop tracks in production music libraries but you won’t find current or past pop hits.

Unlike a pop song, production music is composed to be used specifically as background music. It is usually instrumental, with no vocals or lyrics, and is similar to a film soundtrack.

The simplicity of licensing makes it a perfect choice for corporate videos, Flash animations, Game apps, Music-On-Hold, PowerPoint presentations, independent film, multimedia applications, – virtually anywhere where music is helpful but where the project budget doesn’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars to license expensive songs.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results  UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.


Royalty Free Music, Sound Effects, and Animated Video Backgrounds

How Is Music Clearance Different from Music Licensing?

Every few weeks or so I’ll get a phone call with an inquiry that goes something like this…

I’d like to use Elvis Presley’s recording of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ as background music in my film. Can you help me do that?

Regretfully, beyond recommending some other companies to investigate, I am not much help in this regard.  Though music licensing is our core business, UniqueTracks only licenses recordings that we have created in-house or that we control the publishing rights to.

What these folks are looking for is a firm that will do “music clearance” work for them.  Yes, there are companies you can turn to when you are looking to obtain music licensing rights but have no idea where to turn.  These companies will help you acquire the rights to use famous songs but they are even better at finding the rights for obscure songs.  Music clearance companies are experts at finding the needle-in-the-haystack information that will eventually track down the song you’re interested in.  They will then act as your advocate with the publisher and record company to try and get you the best license pricing available.

What is Music Clearance?

Music Clearance is the process of obtaining the permissions necessary to include a music recording in a production.  The music clearance process should encompass all music used in the production.  This means every music cue, not just the soundtrack but also any source or background music.

For instance, if a film includes a scene where the characters are listening to music on the radio, the song being broadcast from the radio will need to be “cleared” –  you will need to get permission to use the song.  If the characters are at a bar and live music is being performed in the background, you will need to obtain the permissions necessary to use the song in that way.

The act of “clearing” these music cues involves obtaining the necessary licenses needed to use the music in the production.  You will need a synchronization license and a master use license.

Licensing is priced based on the type of project.  For instance, with a film, a festival rights license will be cheaper than a general release license.  Licensing music for use in a TV commercial will cost whatever the market will bear.  A famous recording of a song will command a much higher rate than an undiscovered or unknown song.

Performance Rights Organizations

If you are doing music clearance yourself, the best place to start is with the major performance rights organizations (PROs).  ASCAP, Broadcast Music (BMI) and SESAC are the major PROs in the United States.  Chances are the song you are looking for is registered with one of these organizations and you can obtain valuable publisher and writer information from them for free.

Note: You will still have to track down the owner of the recording rights (usually the record company) to get permission to use a recording of the song you’re interested in.  Hint: A great way to find the name of the record company is to use Amazon.com’s search function.

Most nations have their own performance rights organizations. In the United Kingdom, the performance rights organization is PRS. In Canada it is SOCAN, in Australia it is APRA, Germany has GEMA.  These groups link their database of songs so they are aware of each other’s listings. If a song registered with ASCAP and created by an American composer is played on the radio in England, PRS, the UK performance rights organization, will log that performance in their database and send ASCAP a report of all performances of that song (usually on a quarterly basis).

Music Clearance Companies

The links below are to some notable companies that handle music clearance and music licensing.  I’ve linked to informational articles on their sites so you can get more information on this subject.

EMG Music Clearance – Do It Yourself Music Clearance (good article)

The Music Bridge LLC – A Music Clearance Primer

Parker Music Group – A good FAQ

The Rights Workshop – Licensing & Music Clearance

One of the reasons stock music companies like UniqueTracks exist is because we can license music quickly and easily without having to seek a third-party company to negotiate licensing for you.  We are a one-stop shop.  When you purchase a stock music track on the UniqueTracks site, you are immediately issued a synchronization and a master use license to use the music in your production.

The trade-off, of course, is that UniqueTracks cannot license a Beatles or Led Zepplin song to you. We can, however, license famous classical production music like this piece by Tchaikovsky.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.

Yoko Ono loses copyright suit over use of Lennon’s Imagine

On June 2nd, the judge in the copyright infringement case Yoko Ono brought against the creators of the film “Expelled” for their use of John Lennon’s song Imagine has ruled in favor of the filmmakers based on a the “fair use” doctrine.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein rule that “the doctrine provides that the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright.”.

You can read the judges entire decision here. Those interested in the fair use doctrine should take the time to read the judges opinion because he very thoughtfully describes and then rules on each of the criteria that make up fair use.

  • The Purpose and Character of the Use
  • The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
  • The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole
  • The Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market for or Value of the Copyrighted Work
  • The judge’s decision seemed mainly to rest on a subsection of “The Purpose and Character of the Use”, namely Transformative Use. Here is the ruling.

    ii. Transformative Use
    A work is transformative if it does not “merely supersede the objects of the original
    creation” but “instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” Although transformative use “is not absolutely necessary for a finding of fair use, the goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts, is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works.” Thus, transformative works “lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine’s guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright.”

    There is a strong presumption that this factor favors a finding of fair use where the allegedly infringing work can be characterized as involving one of the purposes enumerated in 17 U.S.C. 107: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . ., scholarship, or research.

    Defendants’ use is transformative because the movie incorporates an excerpt of “Imagine” for purposes of criticism and commentary. The filmmakers selected two lines of the song that they believe envision a world without religion: “Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too.” As one of the producers of “Expelled” explains, the filmmakers paired these lyrics and the accompanying music to a sequence of images that “provide a layered criticism and commentary of the song.” The Cold War-era images of marching soldiers, followed by the image of Stalin, express the filmmakers’ view that the song’s secular utopian vision “cannot be maintained without realization in a politicized form” and that the form it will ultimately take is dictatorship. The movie thus uses the excerpt of “Imagine” to criticize what the filmmakers see as the naivety of John Lennon’s views.

    Conclusion Regarding Fair Use
    The balance of factors clearly favors a finding of fair use. Defendants’ use of “Imagine” is transformative because their purpose is to criticize the song’s message. Moreover, the amount and substantiality of the portion used is reasonable in light of defendants’ purpose. Although “Imagine,” as a creative work, is at the core of copyright protection, and defendants’ use of the song is at least partially commercial in nature, the weight of these factors against a finding of fair use is limited given that defendants’ use is transformative. Finally, plaintiffs have not shown that defendants’ use will usurp the market for licensing the song for non-transformative purposes. In sum, allowing defendants’ use would better serve “the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . . than [would] preventing it.”


    Ono’s position had been that she had the right to control use of the song by reviewing and choosing licenses. She also had the right to reject uses of the song. She brought the suit because she believe the filmmakers had “looted her of the ability to do so”.

    Seth Godin’s mistaken PowerPoint advice

    Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, Purple Cow, and a ton of really great books on successful marketing, wrongly recommends that presenters should include music from their personal CD collections in their public PowerPoint presentations.

    The blog post entitled Really Bad PowerPoint, offers five rules to create amazing PowerPoint presentations. Rule number four states:¦

    —————————
    Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
    —————————

    You will breaking copyright law if you give a PowerPoint presentation following Seth’s advice here. Unfortunately, you cannot just rip your personal CD collection and attach those tracks to your slides. When you purchase a CD you are not licensed to use the music for anything other than your personal enjoyment. To use music in a commercial vein, you need to obtain permission from the music’s publisher and the recording company.

    This shows that even a savvy guy like Seth Godin can be fuzzy about copyright laws. It makes me wonder how often this practice goes on in corporate America. How often have you seen a PowerPoint presentation accompanied by music that the presenter ripped from his/her CD library?

    Stock Music companies like UniqueTracks offer fast and easy music licensing to media producers who in turn, integrate the music into their DVDs, videos, podcasts, radio and TV advertising, Flash and Powerpoint presentations and music-on-hold programming.

    YouTube close to preventing copyrighted content uploads

    I’ve been watching with great interest how YouTube handles accusations that it knowingly hosts and broadcasts copyrighted material. It now seems that Google, which acquired YouTube in November of 2006, is close to releasing technology that will help eliminate video uploads which violate intellectual property laws. Claim Your Content is Google’s name for filtering technology that will give content providers and publishers an easy way to alert YouTube that copyrighted material has been uploaded to its site.

    But is a major showdown brewing? This March, Viacom sued Google and YouTube for $1 billion citing massive and intentional copyright infringement. Will this case ever go to court? Google has begun making revenue sharing deals with its major content contributors. If Google and Viacom can agree on revenue sharing terms then Viacom’s copyright infringment suit probably never goes to trial.

    I don’t think there’s any question that YouTube built its vast community, and its brand, while knowingly broadcasting copyrighted material. Now, under Google’s dominion, the site is rapidly making attempts to satisfy copyright regulations.

    Going forward with revenue sharing seems like the smartest way out of the copyright problem. However, will major media companies like Viacom seek compensation for past broadcasting of their content – broadcasting which made YouTube one of the top destinations on the Internet and that led Google to purchase the company for 1 billion dollars?

    By October of 2006, before Google acquired it, an estimated 90 percent of the more than 100 million videos watched daily on YouTube violated copyright laws, according to Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

    I’m sure Google/YouTube will work out revenue sharing with its major content providers going forward. The questions to me are:

    1. Will they compensate (or be forced, through the courts, to compensate) for that initial decision to broadcast copyrighted material in the first place?
    2. How will they compensate for that initial decision to broadcast copyrighted material?
    3. Can you create a business that essentially gives everyone else’s products away, and then sell it to a megacorp for $1 billion, and not pay some legal penalty?

    Follow Up: This article from the Washington Post, published on March 24, 2007 Our Case Against YouTube outlines Viacom’s case against YouTube. It was written by Michael Fricklas, general council for Viacom.

    Podcast Music Licensing and Performing Rights Organizations

    I found this description and discussion of music licensing for podcasters very informative. If you do any type of internet broadcasting, you may be interested in how Performing Rights Organizations are looking at this latest internet broadcasting technology.

    Should Podcasters have to pay a fee for the right to play copyrighted songs during a Podcast? Yes, says ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. There’s also a good discussion of how much that licensing will cost.

    Just releasedPodcaster – Podcast Production Toolkit. This massive collection by Blastwave FX has been created especially for Podcast producers. Podcaster has everything you need to produce a professional podcast. Add podcast theme music or just a beat loop to your intro and immediately give a focus to your show. With over 500 sound effects this set will let you underscore the humorous, contentious and exciting moments of your podcast.