How Do I Get Music Copyright Permission?

I Have To Get Music Copyright Permission!
How/where Do I get It?

If the video you are creating is not to be shown anywhere other than in your own school classroom as part of a class project, you may use the music if your teacher approves.  However, if the video will be played outside of your classroom, you must obtain “copyright licenses” for the program.  “Outside of your classroom” is a clear phrase which may be taken literally.  It includes showing the video:

1. on a school-wide distribution system (CCTV) – for example, a student-produced news cast or “morning announcement” program.
2. as part of a “film festival” in an auditorium or theatre-type performance whether or not admission fees are charged.
3. over a cable system to the community.
4. over the Internet, for example, on Youtube.com or SchoolTube.com.
5. at an outdoor event on a projection screen.
6. at any public event including a church.

Sources of Music

The music used in productions may come from various sources:

• Professional and commercial recordings
• Unrecorded sheet music
• Original music
• Music in the public domain
• Music libraries

Using any of these sources requires that specific permissions be obtained before the music is placed in the program.

Recorded and Copyrighted Music

If it is absolutely necessary to use copyrighted music from a record, CD, tape, or from a video recording of a live concert, you must:

• Contact the company listed on the recording label, CD, or tape. (A recording you made on your own equipment at a live concert is not a legal recording.)   You can find the company named on the label of the CD.  Look the company up on the Internet for their contact information.

• Call the company and ask to be transferred to the licensing department.  Request a “copyright license” from the recording company for each piece of their music you would like to use.  You will need to explain exactly how you want to use the music, that it will be recorded onto video media, that it will be synchronized with visual images, where it will be seen and some idea of the size of the potential audience.  It is also important to indicate whether anyone will receive payment for their work or whether you, the production company, are creating the video for a profit.  Tell them if duplications will be made and/or sold and what the price of the duplications is expected to be.

Here’s a Tip:  Most small independent record labels are much easier to deal with than the major companies.  Frequently, you will get a human being and not a recorded voice when you call the small labels.  Their response time is usually quicker to rights requests and very likely could be a “yes.” 

Regardless of who you talk with on the telephone, you will have to follow-up with a letter stating your intentions and you should not proceed with your video recording until you have a letter back from the label granting you copyright licenses.  Do not “air” your program without having that letter in your possession.

Until recently, the most common advice about who to contact was for the requestor to contact  ASCAP or BMI.  However, neither of these organizations currently license music to CCTV systems in schools. 

If the video is going to be broadcast or cablecast, it is entirely possible that the broadcast or cable company will have a “blanket license” with ASCAP or BMI and that license will cover any showing of the video over their system.  It is recommended that you inquire about whether the company has a blanket license BEFORE you try to get permission on your own and certainly before you commit to using the music in your program.

It is not recommended that amateurs attempt to get permission from major recording artists for use of their music on student projects. The process is lengthy and can be discouraging. The result, most often, is a resounding “no” or a very high usage fee that may be equal to a month of college tuition.

Sheet Music

If the music you want to use is published in sheet music form, but not already recorded (such as the music used in a school band concert that will be shown on cable), you must obtain permission from the sheet music publisher. You must contact the publisher directly.  Follow the same advice as given above for contacting recording label companies.

Original Music

A faster route involving less red tape, would be to contact local musicians who have their own original music. Obtain their permission to use their original music in the production. Most local artists love the free publicity of having their music included in a television program and, in some cases, will not charge you for recording it. It is still important to get that permission in writing!  You will need a letter saying that they give you permission to use this recording in a video production.  And it needs to indicate what the program will be shown on – CCTV or Cable television, etc.  The letter needs to be signed by the composer(s), lyricist(s) and (performers).  The signatures should be both printed legibly as well as a full signature and the letter needs to be dated.  Try to obtain contact information on the signatories as well in case you need to get back to them for some reason.

It is important to note that you can only use the local band’s original music in the production. The band’s rendition of a copyrighted song cannot be used. Their version of a copyrighted song is sometimes called a “cover.” Cover music can sometimes be used legally.  You need to contact an attorney to walk you through all the steps in the process.  Do an Internet search for “Title 17 of the US code.”  Click on the text button for Chapter One.  Then scroll down to section 115 and double-click it.  Read the section.  You will quickly see the need for you to contact an attorney to help interpret it for you.

Music Libraries

Another effective and less complicated way to get music for your programs is to use the services of a music library. An internet search for “music library” will provide a list of dozens of options.  There are many companies that own large libraries containing many types and styles of music that can be purchased by a studio facility. Pre-recorded music libraries vary widely in size and cost.  These companies use several types of contracts with their clients:

• With a “buy-out” contract, the studio facility is free to use the music as often as they like without additional fees, once the music is purchased.

• “Needle-drop” is a term left over from the days of vinyl records. In a “needle-drop” contract, every time a piece of music is recorded for a program (drop the phonograph needle on a record), a fee is paid to the music library company.

• When using a “lease” contract, a flat fee is paid for unlimited use of a specified number of CDs in the library. As long as the lease is paid up, you may use the music in the library. A lease term is usually one year.  However, after the first year, it may be possible to renegotiate a better rate for the future if you ask for a 3 or 5 year contract.  At the very least you can usually “freeze” the yearly lease amount for that period of time making it inflation-proof. 

When you stop paying on the lease contract, however, you must return all the CDs and can no longer use music from the library in any new videos.

Make Your Own Music

There are several music composition and creation computer programs available.  An internet search will turn up a wide variety of these programs.  Their cost can range from completely free to quite expensive.  The less expensive programs will offer fewer options than their more expensive counterparts but they may be completely adequate for your use.  The only way to find out if a program is adequate for you is to try the programs out.  Many of these programs offer a trial download which will allow you to “test drive” the program before actually having to pay for it.