Ready for music on your podcast? Looking to add a clip on your YouTube? Better make sure that’s legal. We’ve got the lowdown for you here.
You’re thinking about using music on your YouTube or podcast series. Maybe it’s for an intro (check out our tips for podcasters and YouTubers), maybe it’s for a particular segment, maybe it’s a short clip of someone else’s work, maybe it’s even just playing in the background at the café where you’re recording. An important question you’re going to have to ask yourself if you want to keep it playing without paying anyone else is if it’s legal. Or in podcasting terms, is it podsafe?
When you find a piece of music or sound bite that you like (or accidentally shows up in a recording), ask yourself three questions:
- Is it fair use?
- Is it copyright free?
- Do I hold the license to it?
If you can’t answer yes to any of those questions, then worst case scenario you might be exposed to a lawsuit and best-case scenario is you won’t be able to monetize your video or podcast.
Let’s walk through these three terms and what they mean (and what people think they mean). Then I’ll cover how to get around it.
The ethics should be more than clear though. Think of all the hard work and labor you’re putting into your project. The musicians have done the same and deserve their due, right?
Is It Fair Use?
“Fair Use” is an English and American legal term, but the idea is generally respected throughout the world. It’s an often misunderstood term and only allows you to use a clip or work by someone else if you’re reviewing it for criticism, news reporting, or teaching. According the 17 U.S. Code § 106, to be fair use you have to consider the following factors:
- The purpose of use – is it for commercial or non-profit educational purposes;
- 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 potential use on the market or of the value of the copyrighted work.
Does fair use protect me from using a hit song for my theme? No.
Does fair use protect me from having a song in the background of my video? No.
If you’re planning on making money off someone else’s copyrighted work, then it’s probably not legal. You’ll need permission. If you pay attention to music news, you’ll note that often, even a short short snippet of a kick drum and snare from some unheard of 1970s soul album gets used by a hip hop or EDM artist, and suddenly they’re getting sued over it. It could be argued that if you changed the sample enough, then you’re adding enough value to make it a different work. And you might be able to hold that up in court, if you’ve spent enough on lawyers.
If your podcast is run for specifically educational purposes, and you want to show a clip of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and you’re not making any money off of it and (even better) if you’re affiliated with a non-profit, then you’re probably in the clear.
Is it a fact or idea? Like if you put some wings on a tube and it flies, do you owe something to the Wright Brothers Institute? No, you’re in the clear. Where copyright comes in is in much more specific designs and orientations, but on general ideas, principles, or facts, you’re okay. Probably you won’t have this issue though.
Is it a critique or are your reporting the news? Did Gidgy Gadgy drop a new beat or a new Star Wars is coming out and you want to use a clip to report on or make fun of it? Then you’re fine to use it, as long as it’s clear that’s the intention, and also in regards to the next point.
Is your YouTube video entirely composed of Star Trek clips? Are you making a critique where it’s thirty seconds of critique and 45 minutes of movie or show? It’s probably not allowed. This is easy for YouTube’s algorithms to find, flag, and ban. Expect demonetization at best (meaning, the money you make from your commercials will go to the copyright owner of the clip you showed). If you have more critique/other stuff than clip, then you’re in the clear.
Does it hurt the sales by directly copying the product? Probably not going to be an issue for you. This question is more asked about copy shops selling copies of textbooks to students, or people selling CDs on the street.
Is It Copyright Free?
This is another hugely misunderstood principle. Basically, nothing is copyright free. As soon as it is printed or recorded, it is “copyrighted”. The Copyright Office exists to give you an absolute, verifiable proof of this, but a timestamp on a computer or upload date onto YouTube also serves this purpose and is useable in court (or on user agreements).
People often mistake this term, “Copyright Free”, with a Creative Commons license, which I’ll cover below.
Do I Hold a License for It?
Basically, in order for you to use something created by someone else for your own commercial purpose, you have to have some sort of permission to use it. There are, in general, two forms of this permission: Creative Commons and specifically issued licenses.
By default, your creative work is “all rights reserved”. But let’s say you want other people to be able to use your work as intros, outros, backgrounds, and so on. Then what you can do to express this and register it in a way people will trust in the future (and you can’t delete and then sue people) is to head over to CreativeCommons.org and register your work there.
Creative Commons is a general, public domain license that lets the artist restrict or make free their work in defined uses. Let’s say I want people to buy my song, but I want you to be able to use it on your YouTube or podcast for free as long as you attribute it. I’ll register it with CC and then put it on my page for downloading, allowing anyone to have access to it. With a Creative Commons license, you don’t have to ask me for permission, as long as you use it in such a way as I’ve defined.
This is your safest but most expensive route. With a traditional license, you get a physical or digital copy of the license – a sheet stating permission to use the work in certain aspects. You can obtain a traditional license by asking the rights’ holder for a copy (and paying a premium, Beyonce doesn’t come cheap my friends), or by purchasing a song or track that comes with a license.
This generally means that you should abandon your idea of using the latest hot track or a favorite classic. It’s a better idea to find some original stock music, where the service provides you with a commercial license. There are many stock music services out there, like Premium Beat or Artlist, but the best (and I’ll admit my bias here) is Create Music. I’ll get into why in a moment.
With a commercial license from most stock music companies, generally you’re allowed to use that music in any project that you create while holding a membership, and the license remains afterwards. That means, if you create a YouTube video with a theme song from a stock music service, the license will remain forever and you never have to worry about a copyright violation. Now, once your subscription ends, you can’t create anything new with those music tracks, but the stuff you already created you won’t have to worry about.
Where Create Music stands apart from the others is in our app. Our stock music is adaptive, meaning that it will change according to your desired length. If you want it at 4 minutes, then it will automagically adjust, with a proper intro, outro, and body for 4 minutes. 10 minutes? No problem. 10 seconds? Also no problem. On top of that, each of our tracks are made with four or five variations, so that you can use them throughout one work and sound like you’ve got a band writing fresh tracks specifically for your project.
Pretty awesome, right?
Go on and try it. Sign up now and you’ll get a month of licenses for free.
What if YouTube flags me?
This is more often than not, not a big deal. But if this happens, then just follow the steps in our blog about dealing with YouTube claims.