As I travel around the U.S. providing instructional copyright workshops for teachers and students, I am routinely asked, “Why can’t we use the music we legally purchased for our videos or other media projects?”

The answer is - you can if you are meeting proper Fair Use requirements. The top two requirements are 1) the song used must have instructional value or relates to the content being taught & 2) the video/project is being shared within the classroom or on a closed/password protected network. Students and teachers may also use popular songs outside Fair Use applications if they have proper media permissions from the copyright holder. Let’s face it. Because most videos are being shared on the internet, they are not meeting Fair Use requirements. The question to ask is – what legal statements, documents or terms of use let us know when we might be violating our purchase agreement when using popular music in videos or broadcasts?

Let’s take a look and review the two most popular music retailers and their terms of use. First up, iTunes: . Under Usage Rules (i), iTunes terms of use specifically states “You shall be authorized to use iTunes Products only for personal, non-commercial use.” In other words, the music we purchase is meant for our personal, listening pleasure. However, to the average account holder without any legal training, these terms might be considered vague as to how we can personally use the music. I have been informed that Apple will be providing a more detailed terms of use, since they are partnering with education and the 1:1 device initiative.

Thankfully, we have another major retailer,, that goes into greater detail and leaves no room for questioning how popular music can be used without proper permissions. Below is a screenshot from their terms of use webpage and can be reviewed here: (sections 2.1 & 2.2)


Section 2.1 echoes iTunes’ terms by stating you may use the purchased music for “personal, non-commercial purposes”. In addition, section 2.2 states, “You may not redistribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, license or otherwise transfer or use the Music Content. We do not grant you any synchronization, public performance, promotional use, commercial sale, resale, reproduction or distribution rights for the Music Content.” The key statement that holds true for all music retailers is that they do not grant “sync”/synchronization (the process of embedding a digital media file into your personal project, video, podcast or other media outlet), public performance or broadcasting rights, which are the areas students, teachers and even administrators frequently misuse the most.

Section 6.7 Licenses and Contracts of The Fair Use Guidelines states “Educators and students should determine whether specific copyrighted works, or other data or information are subject to a license or contract. Fair use and these guidelines shall not preempt or supersede licenses and contractual obligations” - Having seen videos removed or “taken down,” cease and desist letters shared by various educational entities and more importantly, actual lawsuits placed on schools, districts, regions (including their parents and students), it is paramount that we create an awareness regarding digital licensing and migrate toward a media permissions process. If Weird Al can make media permissions part of his routine ( even though he is legally parodying, so can we!

As an administrator or teacher reviewing potential digital resources or content, make it part of your process or rubric to review the resource’s licensing and terms of use. This procedure will eliminate financial lawsuits, save funding for your school, and ultimately, help your colleagues and students become better digital citizens.HalHeadshot1

Hal Fletcher is the Information and Product Specialist for Soundzabound Royalty Free Music in Atlanta, GA. Hal conducts student & staff development workshops for schools, admin

offices and ed-tech conferences to share his knowledge and experiences regarding copyright, ethical use of digital media, and proper media permissions that he gained during his 23 years of consulting.