Music Copyright Pitfalls & How To Avoid Them










There exist plenty of pitfalls for video creatives when dealing with copyright protected music but some are more common than others.

Here are a few of them. 


It’s your responsibility

Finding and downloading music is easier than ever. This also means that it’s easier than ever to forget that every song and every instrumental track is copyright protected. You always have to make sure that all rights have been taken care of before using a track.


The Devil Is In the Details

Always remember what kind of licensing contract you’ve signed. If you’ve cleared the song for the U.S., you shouldn’t start broadcasting the commercial in Germany afterwards. If you’ve only paid for online broadcasting, you shouldn’t start putting it on TV or produce a radio version featuring the song. You do not own the music even though you’ve cleared some rights for it.


Running Out of Time

Always remember the time limit. Music for commercials is usually only cleared for one year and you’ll have to clear the rights again when the year is up. Non-commercial projects such as corporate presentations, TV shows and films are usually cleared in perpetuity. Trailers are always cleared in perpetuity as well.


New Version, New Clearing

Many creatives clear the music for different versions of the same commercial. If you change the commercial, and you haven't cleared the music for more versions beforehand, you’ll have to clear the music again. As a production company, you rarely have carte blanche to use the music as much as you want simply because you’ve cleared it once. Again, the devil is always in the detail.


Diegetic Music Is Not Free

If you're recording a scene with music coming an existing source such as a TV, radio or live performance, you might think that you can keep the music in the film. However, this depends solely on the music. If the band/orchestra performs a public domain composition (such as Mozart, Beethoven or Bach), you'll only have to clear it with the orchestra as they own the master right (the recording). You'll have to clear the publishing right if the composition isn't public domain, in which case the cover still belongs to the performer.


Summing Up

To sum up: always make sure you know what your contract states before you use the music, and always be very specific when you license it. If you’re in doubt, ask the music publisher. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.


We'd be happy to give you more copyright advice. Simply contact one of our music supervisors by phone or e-mail.