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What’s that? You’re not paying Time Warner, the copyright holder, for the rights to sing “Happy Birthday to You” in a public place? You could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit!
That’s apparently what they charge. It’s probably just enough to earn a coupla million a year, but not quite enough to prompt a challenge of the copyright claims that, as far as I can tell, appear pretty week.
You can wait till at least 2030, when the song enters the public domain. You can ignore the copyright restrictions, and risk the full wrath of the law. Or you can join in Free Music Archive’s contest to produce a “Creative Commons” alternative. If your song is chosen as a winner, Free Music Archive promises to market the crap out of your song, in an effort to supplant the copyrighted song from its dominant position. Until then, you’ll either have to shell out ten grand or be content with one of the options in the video below.
Scott Bourne made some interesting points on the blog Photofocus. He pointed out something many of us overlook in today’s world of social media marketing and sharing – that posting a photo via Twitter (which will apparently soon be possible) or Twitpic, or even on sites like Facebook means you have basically given up control of your content. He shares some points from Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS):
“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”
“You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.”
He further goes on to point out that any photo previously shared online can no longer be sold as an “exclusive” and asks whether the exposure you gain from sharing on a service like Twitter is worth what you lose.
Basically he says everything that needs to be said, I’m just repeating it here because it can’t be overemphasized. READ your terms of service – no matter what online resource you use. Yes, it’s pesky and long, and dry, but before you check that little box that says you agree, READ. Every site is different – and my observation has been that generally, the more “free” a site is, the less likely you are to maintain exclusive rights to your content, whether photo, video, music, whatever. Both Facebook and Twitter – the biggest and both free – are explicit about the fact that they can do whatever they want with whatever you post. I caution my kids on what they post – “maybe one day a college application may depend on it” – and am told about privacy filters. That’s the case TODAY. In five years, the TOS make it clear that if they WANT to, they can do pretty much anything with your content.
So what’s the alternative? Not to post anything online so that no one can “steal” it? Actually there are a number of alternatives. The easiest way to ensure your content is not re-used in ways you don’t intend is to downgrade the resolution of what you post. A picture or video can look great on a computer screen but be pretty much worthless in print. Then you can let it be re-tweeted all day long. If you want to go the extra step, most likely if you’re actually in the position of earning money from your content, you may want to add some sort of watermark. I find the watermarks on iStockphoto and other sites to be a bit irritating, but they won’t be stolen. Maybe something more subtle would be enough. You can do similar things with audio content.
But the most important point is already made by Bourne. Read the TOS. There are photo sharing sites out there that allow you to maintain ownership of your content, and others that don’t. You may have to spend a little dough, but hey, you’re receiving a service, right?
I just received my periodic newsletter from American University’s Center for Social Media, and was reminded of an excellent talk I heard last year by its director, Pat Aufderheide. She started off by explaining that the purpose of copyright was to support creativity. She showed a brief video giving snapshots of YouTube favorites and asked us to evaluate whether they violated copyright. At that point, I was convinced all of them did so. By the end of her talk – something like 25 minutes – I was convinced they were all “legal” under “fair use.”
What’s Fair Use? It’s basically the only legal way to use copyrighted material in the creation of new material. Ever load anything up on YouTube and get dinged for copyright music? Depending on the copyright owner’s wishes, you either get the music deleted, or maybe you’re told it will be unavailable in certain countries…or maybe nothing happens except your video is accompanied with irritating ads next to, or along the bottom of your video. If you try and dispute it, you will have to click through a series of screens that feel like they are warning you that you will be sued if you make a frivolous claim. You think, “hey, I’m not a lawyer, maybe I should just let it go…”
The thing is, you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand Fair Use. Spend less than an hour browsing the Center for Social Media’s articles and videos, and it will become pretty clear what is Fair Use, so you can dispute that YouTube copyright claim with confidence. Because the CSM also reminds us that if we don’t exercise our rights under Fair Use, we can easily lose these rights. It’s not a body of detailed laws, but only a kind of a “common understanding” – a set of “best practices” that determine what’s OK and what’s not.
On YouTube, you can dispute a copyright claim one of three ways. You can claim that (1) the material is not under copyright; (2) that it is under copyright, but you have permission to use it; or (3) that it is under copyright, but is permissible under Fair Use. Click the appropriate button, then type a phrase promising not to sue YouTube for having called you a copyright thief by mistake, and wait a week or two. If you’ve done your homework, the copyright claim will be removed and your video will once again become ad-free. More importantly, you’ll have exercised your legal right to use other content in certain ways to create new content.
I highly recommend checking out the Center for Social Media web site, and signing up for their newsletter if this stuff interests you. Check out their most recent “Fair Use Question of the Month” in their blog and you’ll see that there are a number of issues to consider when you’re uploading videos to YouTube – but you don’t need to hire a lawyer to help you sort it out, either.
For decades, printed song lyrics lived in relative obscurity, relegated to album sleeves and sheet music. And until now, they provided no significant source of revenue.
Interestingly, only now that creative entrepreneurs have figured out how to make money from song lyrics have the publishers suddenly shown interest. Most people hosting song lyrics sites apparently did so only as a hobby, often relying on contributing members to post lyrics – and only later discovered that by hosting ads could they generate some revenue for their efforts (and offset expenses, arguably).
As much as I support the argument that those who write the lyrics to our music deserve as much credit as those who write the music (and perform), I’d argue that having overlooked the opportunity, the music industry should forfeit the opportunity. Sharing the words to the songs we know and love is in my view something of a public service – especially when done in a Wiki approach.
And I’d argue it actually already supports the artist. Why do I say that? Ever hear a song on the radio and wonder who performed it (presumably so you can buy it)? Jot down a line from the chorus or a unique lyric, place it in quotes, and drop it on Google. Nine times out of 10, those lyrics sites will take you straight to the answer.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the use of music for your videos. Let’s start by addressing those, and move on to a list of options – literally about a million options – that may work for your particular project. (And if you know of other resources, let me know and I’ll update the list!)
Myth #1: “If I only use 30 seconds (or 10 seconds, or 1 minute) then I’m not violating copyright.” This is a common misconception that is even being taught in journalism schools. If I create and perform a piece of music, I automatically own the copyright – down to the last second.
Myth #2: “If I’m not making money off it, it’s OK.” Copyright is copyright, whether someone makes a profit off my creativity or not. For a home video of your vacation that you’re going to burn to DVD and keep at home, no one is going to have an issue with it because they won’t know about it (though it’s still not legal). If you’re planning to do just about anything else with it, you need permission.
Myth #3: “I can use it because it’s in the public domain.” Well…that depends. Any musical work created before 1922 in the United States is public domain. Depending on whom you ask, however, recordings of those songs are not. And considering most recordings were done after 1922, it’s slim pickings anyway. But if you want to give this a go, , check out PublicDomain4u, which also has links to other sites, or the Open Music Archive. Know how to play an instrument? Go crazy – check out this site to determine if something is in the public domain.
Myth #4: “I can use it because I sang (played, whistled, hummed) the song myself.” The tune itself is subject to copyright. A performance of that tune is a separate copyright requiring permission by the composer. And sound recordings by musicians – well, they’re extremely complicated because publishers get involved, rights are bought and sold…it’s a huge headache.
Myth #5: “I can use Creative Commons or ‘royalty free’ music in a video contest.” Typically, video contest organizers require you to hand over your work to enter – or to claim your prize. Check their fine print. A “Creative Commons” license almost always prevents you from doing this. They’re sharing their music to support your creativity – not giving you the right to transfer ownership to a contest sponsor. Same for licensed or “royalty free” music (which is also licensed, but for a one-time flat fee). They’ve licensed you to use the music, but that usually does not include the right to transfer that license to a contest sponsor.
All that having been said, there are a number of options available. For commercial works, fair use is a great loophole – although it is, legally speaking, poorly defined. But there are a number of fair use options. If you happen to catch your kids on video singing “Happy Birthday” or the TV/radio was on in the background and got on your video, that’s OK. Parody is OK. Using a piece for critique is OK. And so are a surprising number of other cases. Check out this web site to determine if you may qualify for a fair use exclusion for your video. It’s well worth the read.
You may also be a musician, or know someone – say, the high school band or a neighbor – who may be interested in collaborating with you. Again, focus on public domain works or original composition. Don’t know anyone? There are lots of folks on the internet who would like to work with you – sometimes for a fee, sometimes just for publicity. Or maybe you want to agree that any money or prizes are split 75-25, or 80-20:
- Settle the Score is for projects that are a bit more ambitious than a YouTube clip (no offense to YouTube), offering to develop music scores, such as for ad agencies or video.
- You could also collaborate with Moby (yes, that Moby) – he has placed a collection of music that is “free to independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short” (there’s a form to fill out). If you want to use it commercially, your licensing fee goes to the Humane Society – how cool is that?
If that doesn’t suit you, there are a number of folks out there who put out their music in one or another “Creative Commons” license, which is just fine for noncommercial work. Be sure and check their license to ensure you’ve complied with its requirements – such as republishing under the same license, giving credit to them, whatever they ask:
- CCMixter is an awesome site whose subtitle reads, “Download. Sample. Cut-up. Share.” A community of folks who share and remix samples, they offer both the samples and the resulting works created from them for re-use under a variety of Creative Commons licenses…again, read the fine print to avoid using original works inappropriately. The site is very user-friendly.
- The Freesound Project, unlike CCMixter, focuses on individual sounds, rather than mixes. A bit of work is required to assemble the sounds into soundtracks. Again, check the Creative Commons license.
- Audiofarm is a bit experimental, and some searching is needed to find something useful. You could spend a lot of time just browsing and listening, and if you’re looking for something quick to complete your project, this may not be the best place to start.
- Jimmy Gelhaar is an aspiring musician whose work I have used quite a bit. He has a selection of pretty well-done pieces for different moods, you just have to register to use them. He just wants to be credited in order for you to use his work.
- Derek Audette hosts a couple dozen creative commons tracks on his site, with descriptions, for download.
- Kevin MacLeod has collected a variety of creative interests, including an extensive music collection, on his site, Incompetech.com. Some of his stuff is a bit whimsical, but his detailed search function (search by mood and genre) make his site useful to find something for your video in relative short order. He lets you use his music for just about anything, as long as you give attribution.
- Taylor Hayward is a software designer and pianist who loves to compose and play music, and offers “ambient classical music” tracks, completely free, no strings attached.
- Dan-O at Danosongs has a variety of vocal and instrumental tracks he has made available for free use (with attribution). You can even sign up for a “free download of the week” notification by email.
- Internet Audio Guy has about a dozen tracks for free, as publicity for his main site. It’s not much, but it may be what you need – and you can always check his main site for more (paid) options.
- Mp3Free offers a lot of his/her own songs for free (creative commons) use (attribution). The only weird thing about it is that nowhere on the site is an actual name listed. I guess you just credit mp3free.com. Also links to other free sites.
- Sonnyboo offers 20 tracks for free download, no strings attached. He calls it royalty-free, but in actuality he has donated them to the public domain, in exchange to crediting John Scott Ross for the piece.
- RockProper digitally distribute free music from a number of different artists. The music may be downloaded freely, but be sure and check out the licensing requirements for each musician – most of which is Creative Commons (but there are different types and requirements)
- Dogmazic is a similar service as RockProper. They boast nearly 40,000 pieces of music. Much of their site, however, is in French. They have a variety of search options, though I was unable to browse (listen to) music directly on the site for some reason.
- OpSound is a large collection of music contributed under Creative Commons – share alike (meaning your derivative work must carry the same “copyleft”).
- Free Music Archive is a collection of tens of thousands of quality music pieces, hosted by public radio station WFMU (and joined by a host of other curators). Each song has its own track page that explains how you can use it and how you need to credit the owner. The search function is pretty good to, and lets you filter by “sync to video”. And listening and downloading are simple as well.
- Soundclick hosts just shy of an amazing 400,000 pieces of music. You can search by genre and get commercial licenses for between $10 and $50, or select “creative commons” from the pull-down menu at top left, and filter for free music (again checking attribution requirements for each you use).
- the Internet Archive is a project to preserve all kinds of audio files, including live performances by well-known artists. If you absolutely want to use a big-name piece of music but don’t want to track down who owns the rights, this is the only way I know of that you can do it. These archive files are only for noncommercial use – check the individual file information to determine further requirements and/or limitations.
Free Sound Effects
- For sound effects – completely free – check out Universal Soundbank. The French version claims 20,000 sounds (the English claim of 12,000 is probably out of date) – and they’re all listed alphabetically by category.
- Pacific Digital Video mainly offers sound effects, but also a handful of completed music tracks – as well as lots of links to other resources. Use their sounds in exchange for a link back to their site.
- Music for Video offers both music and sound effects – but the music requires an annual fee of 1400 euro for permission to use all their music. The sound effects, however, are free. They just ask that you link back to their site if you use it on the internet.
Music for a fee (licensing)
If you’re looking for a broader pool to choose from, check out these web sites that specialize in licensing music and sounds from a large number of contributors:
- Music2License offers a license for 40 Pounds Sterling, regardless of what the music is used for. They have a wide variety of music styles and offer a number of different search options.
- The Blue Mask offers BIG sounds composed by Simon Wilkinson for (all prices in pounds Sterling) 0.99 for the mp3 plus 9.99 (noncommercial) or 49.99 (commercial) licensing fee. Fully searchable and browsable, the only downside is that the previous include a woman repeatedly saying “the blue mask dot com” which can get irritating. Probably he knows I own AudioRecorder Pro (see below).
- SmartAssMusic offers a variety of services, including music licensing, most commonly for $20 per track. They also span the gamut of music styles.
- FreePlayMusic has about 6200 pieces of production music, indie music, and sound effects you can license. The production music is the kind of stuff you’d have difficulty finding elsewhere, but you’re also going to pay $25 to $75, if not more (less than $10 for sound effects). It’s free for in-home or educational use; however, I had trouble previewing files – it uses Media Player, and it kept freezing up.
- Jamendo offers 30,000 “free and legal” music albums for download and use for private projects; but if you want to share your video, they’re not free – but in many cases, nearly so. Select your song, specify its use and the license term, and you’ll be given the licensing cost – often as little as $3. You can also “go pro” and get access to everything for an annual fee. The cool thing about this site is it’s a community – meaning the tracks and albums are sorted by popularity.
- Citybus Productions as a smallish (but growing, I presume) collection of production tracks you can license for about $25 bucks (web site, amateur video) or more for broader uses; and a list of sound loops for producing your own music. You can search by category, but their tracks are not tagged for other search options.
- Rumblefish hosts 30,000 pieces of music for licensing, and I particularly like them because of their user-friendly search function that allows you to search by mood, and the fact that for a YouTube video or a vlog piece, they only charge $5 (though the price increases for other, more commercial uses). They have a good working relationship with YouTube, and if you use their work it will immediately be flagged on YouTube. They won’t deactivate your audio, but if you want your video to be ad-free, dispute the copyright and put your invoice number on the form – it’ll be cleared up within a day or two.
- SoundSnap offers an amazing 100,000 sound effects and music loops (for use in a music editing/production program) at reasonable pricing depending on how many you buy (from $1,80 per sound to $249 for an annual unlimited subscription) and they are working on plans whereby you can contribute your own sounds for revenue sharing.
Also intriguing is Hobnox, a Germany-based sharing platform of sorts (in public beta testing). They offer users 2 GB space, and the ability to upload and share (and download) all sorts of content. They claim to be a forum to facilitate collaboration between creative types, so you may find someone there with similar interests to work with. In addition, they have a somewhat limited but extremely user-friendly, cloud-based AudioTool to create your own beats (here’s a sample of what I did in 20 minutes – gaps are due to my bandwidth) Check out their “what is Hobnox” link for more.
Along similar lines, New Grounds is a sharing and collaboration platform – a social networking site for creative types. In addition to music, they have flash video, gaming and other collections/sharing portals. Each uploaded music piece comes with its own copyright information.
Niklas Aman specializes in music for video, and has a fair number of pretty good tracks for different moods. He charges by the second and is very responsive to requests. Check him out on Twitter.
If you want to take a shot at producing your own audio, the simplest option is to record it with your camcorder, import it to your editing program, delete the video, and edit away. You can also record directly to your computer – but I’d advise against using your computer mike. I’ve had pretty good results with the USB mic that comes with the RockBand video game. A couple of programs you can use to record are Audio Recorder Pro, for $39.95 which I’ve used for years with great success, or WireTap Studio for $69 – which I haven’t tried. Of course there are plenty of other programs, including the option to just use Windows MovieMaker directly.
Those of us who aspire to make video on a budget that is significantly less than, say $100 million have our own challenges. One of these is finding raw materials – legally – to incorporate into our work. Music is the obvious shortcoming- unless you’re also a songwriter and musician, you probably can’t afford to pay the prices you’d like in order to practice your craft. But what about sound effects? Stock video? Even with the growth of low(er) cost licensing sources, you almost have to be a copyright lawyer to navigate all the fine print! Challenges include:
- Maybe it’s possible to get permission to use music, even for a small fee – but determining who owns the music is often tricky. Using your own performance of a song someone else has written won’t work.
- Depending on where the video will end up, the “strings” attached in the licensing scheme may have unforeseen consequences. Are you using something with a “creative commons” license? If so, that means your derivative product – i.e. your video, has to have the same license. Are you willing to do that? If so, you might try a couple of my favorites: Jimmy Gelhaar or Kevin Macleod’s sites.
- photos and video are even trickier, as they’re more prevalent on the ‘net. Think it’s up for grabs because it’s already posted on an internet site for all to see? Think again!
Fortunately there are options.
- Some video editing programs include “sample music” that you are free to use. Be sure and check the fine print!
- There is music in the “public domain” you can use. This can vary by country, so a little research is needed. Whose laws apply? But many classical pieces fit in this category.
- If you’re really into video editing, there are sites that sell music – often on CD – that you are free to use as you wish. One such site (no endorsement by NATO implied) is Digital Juice. There are others! Some examples of sites that provide free music and / or sound effects are:
With all the fuss nowadays about copyright infringement, it’s important to ensure you are legally using the music you incorporate into your videos. If you’re a YouTuber, you probably know that YouTube has become more proactive in filtering out copyrighted music – and if the owner of the offending piece objects, your video will be disabled. Even if you’re making a home video you want to give away to friends and family, copyright law applies; whether you use music performed by someone else, or you or a fellow musician have enough talent to reproduce someone else’s song, you have to obtain a license to use the work. The only exception might be the performance of a piece on which the copyright has expired – music in the public domain.
Fortunately, licensing your music doesn’t have to be expensive. At Rumblefish, you can select the right piece of music for your YouTube video for about 5 bucks. If you want to make a wedding DVD for all your guests, the cost runs about 30 or 40 bucks. Just about any use you can imagine for their music, they offer a price – from a YouTube video to a blockbuster movie – and the price varies accordingly. The best feature of the site is its search function – you can search by mood or music type to quickly zero in on what you’re looking for. The sidebar on this site shows examples of YouTube videos I’ve made with Rumblefish music (in case the sidebar changes in the future, it’s this and this).
Music can be the make-or-break element in any video product. The skill with which this tool is wielded can make all the difference.
For example, a trip to YouTube or other video sites will reveal a number of homemade videos in which the creator obviously just chose a piece of music that he or she likes, without considering its relevance to the content, or its role in creating the mood of the piece. In other cases, music choice may be more appropriate, but the images are not synchronized to the rhythm of the music, or splashy transitions interfere with a calm piece of music. The music you choose, and the way you apply it, can help create emotions, guide the pace and tone of the images, or do all sorts of other things. Imagine imagery of your kids playing in a pool on a summer day, slowed down just a bit, and the sound replaced by dreamy music. This technique will only enhance the effect with time – years later it may bring a tear to your eyes!
Unfortunately, copyright can be the source of major headaches. Maybe you want to make a video that incorporates your favorite song from that period in your life. Often the musician will have no objection – but the labels are struggling with declining music sales and they persist in the notion that your use of “their” music further detracts from sales rather than creating interest. How often have you watched a movie and then paused through the credits to find out what that really great song was you heard in one of the scenes?
If you make a home video that uses commercial music, the “copyright police” are unlikely to come after you. However, if you decide to publish the video on YouTube, or worse, use commercial music in a web video that promotes your business, you can wind up in hot water. Fortunately there are a number of “royalty-free” sites on the internet (use the search term “royalty free music”) whose creators will allow you to download their music and use it any way you wish. Typically there’s just one minor catch: they tend to be “copylefted” – copyrighted under the “Creative Commons” movement. Usually this means you can use the music – even burn it to CDs and sell it for a profit – but any derivative work must be released under the same “copyleft.” And you typically have to give credit for the music – a small price to pay for someone who has offered his or her creative talent to support yours. Check the creator’s web site to ensure you fully understand their licensing rules.
So great – you’ve got all this music to choose from now! The catch I referred to earlier is that no matter how much of the creative work in the finished product is yours, a video that incorporates Creative Commons licensed music can never be fully yours. You can’t sue someone if they use your video for their own purposes or “mash it up” into another product. Something to bear in mind.
If you’re thinking of entering your work in a video contest, this can be an issue. Read the fine print in the contest rules – often entering the contest means you will have to give up your rights to the work, and transfer these rights to the contest sponsor. No problem right? Unfortunately, you don’t have the right to transfer the license for your Creative Commons music, because of the requirement to maintain the same “copyleft”! So use royalty-free music with care, and don’t get disqualified on a technicality.