Music Copyright Laws: The Basics
If you’re involved with media production at any level, there’s a fair chance you will at some point run into issues concerning copyrights.
The world of copyrights and licensing can be murky and confusing, often leading to protracted legal battles and expensive settlements for even the most knowledgeable experts and experienced corporations. If you plan to produce media that uses any outside creative influence, you’d do well to research some of these issues and learn what is okay and what might land you in some hot water. Defending your work in court is difficult and costly, and you don’t want to end up in legal trouble because you were ignorant of music copyright laws.
There is of course, a good reason for music copyright laws. They are designed to protect creative artists from unauthorized copying and use, which is a good thing. Were it not for these laws, companies would never have to pay a composer for the use of their music, they’d simply recreate it or just use it without permission. It’s hard enough to make a living creating music, and it’s only fair that creators be compensated for their efforts.
However, music copyright laws can also work on behalf of the people and organization purchasing music rights. Just because you are sued for misusing music doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. An example of this is the use of popular songs used in political campaigns. George W. Bush and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann have both been issued cease and desist letters by musician Tom Petty for using his songs during campaign stops. Though both politicians backed down before the case was brought to court, many legal experts felt the cease and desist orders were without grounds, as both had purchased ASCAP licenses for performance, which covered the use of the songs in question. Had either of these cases been brought before a judge, the copyright laws would likely have protected them from further legal action.
That being said, the easiest way to avoid running afoul of music copyright laws is simply to purchase music through a royalty-free music website like PremiumBeat.com. Royalty-free music—sometimes misleadingly called “copyright-free music”—is music that you purchase once, and can use in your media productions as you see fit, for as long as you like. When you buy a CD or download a song from iTunes, you’re buying only the private rights to that music. What this means is that you can listen to it as long as you like on your home stereo, on your iPod, in your car and so forth, but you don’t have the right to use it in a public performance or a media production, like a video or computer game. To gain those rights, you must enter into what’s called a “rights managed” contract in which you pay royalties to the artist based on how many times you use the song, how many people hear it and where it is heard. As you might imagine, this can be astronomically expensive and accessible only to major companies and film studios.
However, royalty-free music offers a way for everyone to gain access to excellent music at an affordable price, while still honoring music copyright laws. When you buy royalty-free music, you pay one up-front fee, and you can use it as much as you like. That means that if you create a video for Youtube using a popular radio hit which you only have private rights for, and it becomes a viral sensation, you could easily end up being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you had instead bought royalty-free music, you’ll never have to worry about paying royalties, regardless of how popular your project becomes.
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