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

by Lee Pritchard on April 18, 2009

in Music Licensing / Copyright, Using Music

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 comment… read it below or add one }

1 L Giorgio May 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

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

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