Can I use a few seconds of copyrighted music in my production without having to pay royalties?

Fair Use CopyrightAs a royalty free music business, we get asked many questions about copyright. There are numerous people that believe they can legally use up to 30 seconds of music without any legal repercussions and without having to seek clearance or a license.

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news…. This is simply not true and a bit of a modern myth.

Copyright law is complex and varies in different countries. US copyright law in particular, has a fair use clause, whereas here in the UK, there is no such clause.

This fair use copyright clause is misinterpreted by many who think that using up to 30 seconds of music is legal. The fact is that any use of music needs to be cleared or licensed. Even where copyright law includes a fair use policy the legal interpretation can vary considerably.

For instance, using a 10 second music clip as an intro to your podcast would probably not be classed as fair use, whereas using a 10 second snippet to critique a piece of music may be seen as fair use in copyright law. However, never assume you are covered by fair use copyright as there is no guarantee you will be safe.

I once heard an American music lawyer say… “When your use of music gets challenged you need a defence; having a license is always your best defence. If your defence is ‘fair use’ this will probably not be sufficient to save you in court.”

She went on to say that it is not worth the risk in nearly all cases.

A good rule of thumb is that it is not OK to use any amount of copyrighted music without permission from the rights owner or a music license. If you do feel fair use applies you will need to study the fair use guidelines for the copyright policy of your jurisdiction and to be completely sure you would need a music lawyer to confirm your belief for your particular circumstance.

In my opinion, it is going to be much easier, cheaper and less stressful to get royalty free music licenses from a reputable company.

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Read further articles related to music copyright & licensing music for multimedia productions
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  1. L Giorgio says

    Do i need license to use a song in my movie short that will not be for sale, and only be shown at a Film Festival?

    Larry Giorgio

  2. Turtle says

    Acording to, there are four factors to be considered
    1. the purpose of use
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion of the original work
    4. the effect of use upon the market

    I do not think you would. You are not going to be selling it, so you would not make a profit off someone elses work.

  3. dudefromthebronx1958 says

    I’m writing a trivia game software application in which the user can add audio and images. I need to create a tutorial in which the user will be guided through the creation of a trivia game about The Beatles. I’d like to include images and music written by The Beatles. While the images I’ll choose are in the public domain, the songs may not be. However, I will not use recordings of entire songs, only short clips or “excerpts.” Do I need permission from the songs’ copyright owner to do this?

  4. fred says

    I am using 20 seconds of beat it song from Michael Jackson hit song on my you tube channel where I am competing in a talent show and I dance to that song.its a comedy show that I am trying to put out.can I use the song


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