Using music and other copyright material in your film/content

This can be a very confusing area for film and content creators. It is always best to get advice from someone skilled in copyright law if you have any doubts. Copyright can apply to images, background film, music, sound effects, artwork, locations, logos, commercial products in shot etc.

The following should not be taken as legal advice – you are encouraged to always check your own circumstances in relation to any copyright material you want to use in your film.

Many people confuse the term ‘free” with copyright free, royalty free and public domain.

1. Just because you sourced it on the Internet, doesn’t mean you can use it in your film for free.

2. Being ‘amateur’, or not knowing the law, is no excuse under copyright law.

3. Owning the CD or paying to download a track from iTunes does not give you the right to use that music in your film. You generally can’t use stuff without gaining permission and/or attributing the owner/writer/author/publisher/musicians in the credits and/or paying for some form of licence.

4. Using commercial music and just saying it is not yours and giving them credit is not the same as applying for permission to use it – remember all the politicians who got caught out using commercial music for campaign launches and ads? You can apply to use commercial recorded music through One Music Australia (OneMusic Australia is a joint initiative between APRA AMCOS and PPCA. Now you’ll pay one licence, in one place). It can however take a long time (allow up to 12 weeks or more), there is no guarantee you will get permission and their response might well exceed your budget.

5. The rights of the particular recording publisher/artists are separate to those of the original composer/lyricist. If you play a piece that someone else wrote, even on your own instrument, the composer/lyricist/publisher may still have rights in that music and you still need their permission to record and use it in your film.

6. One option is to use music that truly is in the public domain (but check that your source is solid) or has a suitable ‘creative commons’ licence (which you must still attribute in your film’s credits AND your video description) that fits your distribution method. For example, some licences might only allow you to use it for non-commercial purposes, some do not allow distribution on the Internet or in a broadcast etc. Check the wording of the licence carefully!

7. Platforms such as Vimeo, YouTube and Facebook have algorithms that will check your uploaded video for sound that matches commercial music tracks. Your video’s audio may be silenced, or the video will be removed if it is found not to have the correct licence/credited the origin. And it can happen as soon as you upload it – it’s that fast!

8. Be careful that ‘free’ music offered on some of the big video platforms such as YouTube may only license the music for use by your film on that platform – if you also want cinema/TV/festival distribution or to also distribute it on another platform, the music might not be covered by that licence.

9. Another way is to be prepared to pay a little extra for royalty free music that can be used on commercial / non-commercial films worldwide on any medium. The quality of such tracks is usually far superior to the totally free stuff anyway and your film won’t sound like a thousand other films. Royalty-free is not the same as ‘free’ – but it is generally fairly well priced, and musicians need to pay bills too 🙂

Check our Resources page for places to source royalty-free music/sound effects.

and there are others…I’m sure our local film-makers can add to this list. Some sites are easier to search than others, some have more tracks/different track lengths/wider variety of genres than others.

10. Another approach is to ask a local composer. Always agree up front what is expected and what is on offer and make sure you have written releases from the composer and any performers that outlines where, how and for how long you can use their music and at what fee. However, One Music Australia might still argue that you should apply to use the music/recording through them.

The above should not be taken as legal advice – you are encouraged to always check your own circumstances in relation to any copyright material you want to use in your film.