How to Use Copyrighted Music in Your Videos

The Basics of How to Use a Copyrighted Song


Why You Need to Properly Use Copyrighted Music in Your Videos


So you’re asking: “Can I use popular music in my video?” We’ve all seen the greyed-out thumbnail on YouTube with the announcement that the video has been taken down because of copyright infringement. So how can you avoid that happening to you? Once you know the rules, using music in your videos won’t be so stressful.


You won’t be wondering if the video that you worked so hard on will be taken down at a moment’s notice, and you’ll rest assured that you have the proper permission to license a song. Here are the basics of getting permission to use a song in your video.


How to Use a Copyrighted Song


You need permission from two entities for the rights to use music in videos: the publisher and the record label. The publisher issues a synchronization license, giving you permission to use the song. The record label issues a master license, governing how/how often/in what context you are allowed to use said song in your material. If you want to get permission to use a song, you need to get in touch with these two entities.


If it’s a popular song in the public eye, it should be fairly easy to find and contact these entities, since these songs are usually published and licensed by large organizations. However, the more popular a song, the more it’s going to cost you to license it properly. There are generally two types of licensing deals: pay-per-use and unlimited-use licenses, which are time-constrained, meaning you can use the song as much as you want for a certain amount of time.


How to Get Permission to Use a Song


The easiest way to get the proper permission to use a song is to go through a service that professionally licenses music for video production, like Studio. If you can’t find the song you’re looking for via one of those services, you can reach out directly to the publisher/record label, which should have email addresses specifically for licensing inquiries. If the song is by a lesser-known artist, you can even contact the artist directly via their website or social media to talk to them about licensing one of their songs.


Myths About How to Use Songs in Videos


There is some pernicious misinformation floating around out there about how to use songs in videos, and what is or isn’t allowed. Let us dispel some of those myths for you right here and now.


There are no real consequences for using unlicensed songs in your videos.

In 2014, vlogger Michelle Phan was sued for $150,000 by Ultra Records for using unlicensed music in her videos. Per infringement. That’s right, EVERY time she used a song without getting the proper permission, she should have paid Ultra Records $150,000. The two parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, but it was surely not a fun day for Michelle.


Whether or not you have over a billion views like Michelle, you shouldn’t tempt fate by trying to fly under the radar and wait for the cease-and-desist letters to come in. And put yourself in the artist’s shoes–would you want someone to post your video on the internet without context and without crediting you for your hard work? Treat others how you would like to be treated.


If I’m a student and/or making no money off of these videos, I don’t need the rights to use music in videos.

The fact that you’re a student or not profiting from your videos does not exempt you from obtaining the rights to use music in a video. Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you are using the video for educational purposes, which is a different class of music usage for which you still need to obtain a license. And the necessity of getting permission to use a song isn’t limited to videos that bring in money from ads or other sources.


If I’m creating a documentary or educational video about a certain piece of music, genre, or artist, I can claim “fair use” for using that music in my video and don’t need the rights to use music in a video.

That depends. The fair-use clause applies to the ‘relevant use’ of copyrighted material in certain situations, and the law can be murky around this clause. And you should know that “fair use” is the term for the legal defense you use once you are already being asked to cease and desist or pay fines. You can’t preemptively classify your music use as such and throw caution to the wind. It’s better to obtain the proper permission than live in fear that you will be “discovered” and asked to take the video down or possibly fined.


If I only use a few seconds of a piece of music, I don’t need to obtain the rights to use music in a video.

Nope, that’s a myth too. This is also related to the fair-use clause, as sometimes short portions of songs can be considered fair use, whereas the entire song is not. But again, this only comes up once you’ve been named in a copyright infringement lawsuit, not in a preemptive tactic to avoid being penalized for such infringement.


Can I Use Popular Music in My Video That I Find with Studio’s Smart Music Search?


Absolutely. The music that Studio finds for you with its Smart Music Search is rights-managed, meaning Studio takes care of obtaining all of the proper permissions for you to use the songs in its catalog. Studio can automatically clear your music for social media or online use with its integrated clearance checks. This way, you can post your video on any social media or online platform knowing that you have all of the proper permissions in hand. Note that this is a feature of Studio’s paid subscription.


Get Started with Studio’s Smart Music Search Feature Now


Click here to learn more about Studio and all of its innovative features, including Smart Music Search, which can instantly find you the perfect, properly-licensed song for your video. Choose from 2 million+ different tracks in a heartbeat with Studio’s powerful AI at your fingertips, guiding you through the music editing and syncing process in just a few minutes. Your video’s perfect soundtrack is waiting for you with Studio.


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