Understanding music copyrights

on Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Music can easily be imported into your computer for use in your movies. The tricky part is obtaining the rights to use that music legally. Realistically, if you’re making a video of your daughter’s birthday party, and you only plan to share that video with a grandparent or two, Kool and the Gang probably don’t care if you use the song “Celebration” as a musical soundtrack. But if you start distributing that movie all over the Internet — or (even worse) start selling it — you could have a problem that involves the band, the record company, and lots and lots of lawyers.
The key to using music legally is licensing. You can license the right to use just about any music you want, but it can get expensive. Licensing “Celebration” for your movie project (for example) could cost hundreds of dollars or more. Fortunately, more affordable alternatives exist.
Numerous companies offer CDs and online libraries of stock audio and music, which you can license for as little as $30 or $40. You can find these resources by searching the Web for “royalty free music,” or visit a site such as www.royaltyfree.com or www.royalty freemusic.com. You usually must pay a fee to download or purchase the music initially, but after you have purchased it, you can use the music however you’d like. If you use audio from such a resource, make sure you read the licensing agreement carefully. Even though the music is called “royalty free,” you still may be restricted on how many copies you may distribute, how much money you can charge, or what formats you may offer.
Another — more affordable — alternative may be to use the stock audio that comes with some moviemaking software. Pinnacle Studio, for example, comes with a tool called SmartSound which automatically generates music in a variety of styles and moods. Although you should always carefully review the software license agreements to be sure, normally the audio that comes with moviemaking software can be used in your movie projects free of royalties.