Music Copyright: How to Get Permission to Use a Song

Music Copyright: How to Get Permission to Use a Song

13min read  

26 Oct 2020

Have you ever come across a piece of music that was just perfect for your video project only to find out the song was copyrighted? If so, you have certainly wondered how to get permission to use a song without violating the artist’s music rights. 

It’s no news that one of the most influential components of a video is sound. Music is responsible for more than half of the impact made by videos

Not every video creator is willing to go through negotiations with a record label in order to get permission to use just one song. If this is your case, then you can opt for royalty-free music. But if you want to use a song owned by a record label, you must get ready to consult with the copyright holder.

Now, the big question is, “How do I use someone’s copyrighted art in my video without getting slammed by YouTube copyright strikes?”

We all seem to be feeling anxious and doubtful about getting a music copyright strike. If you are in the same boat with us, keep on reading. In this article, you will find all the necessary information regarding how to get permission to use a song in your video. Let’s dive right in.


  1. Decide Whether You Need Music License

First of all, be aware that whether you need permission to use a song or not depends on what you want to use it for. Where are you going to publish your work? Will you be using it privately or on a social platform?


Private Use

If you are using the music in a video that will not get published anywhere but is made just for personal use or to show your family and friends, then cheer up! You’re on the safe side. You won’t need to get permission from the copyright holder.


Public Use

Once you decide to use a song in a video published on YouTube or other social media, then you must be prepared to get permission to use it lawfully. Otherwise, you will get copyright infringement.

Statistica’s research shows the number of recent infringement cases in Italy. You can see the results below.

Copyright infringements in Italy: Statistica

Source: Statistica

As you can see, music rights are being violated the most. This explains why both video publishers and YouTube are so adamant about using music legally without violating anyone’s rights. 

This is how it goes. YouTube tracks down illegal users through software known as Content ID. It helps to monitor users and detect those who use copyrighted songs without a license. Detecting an unlawful use, YouTube blocks the video or the channel of the publisher in the worst-case scenario.

YouTube Copyright Strike

Surely, this is not what you would want to see on your YouTube channel, right?


Unprotected Works

The good news is that not all songs require permission to use. Some works are not protected by property laws but are sectioned under the public domain:

Copyright protection is no more valid 50-70 years after the author’s death. The period differs depending on the country. Consider, for example, all the works in the United States dating back to 1924. They are under the public domain because the copyright has expired in1924. If you want to use music that’s in this domain, you can do so without worrying about permission. 

This option won’t work for you? Don’t worry. Follow the steps below, and you will find out how to get permission from the copyright holder.


  1. Know the Rights You Need

Before learning how to ask for a license, you should define what type of license you need. The first thing to know is that every song has two main parts: the music composition and the sound recording.

The musical composition appears as a work of art and includes music and accompanying words. It exists in the form of notations, or phonorecords, such as cassette tape or CD.

Meanwhile, sound recording is a series of sounds, recordings, or music. Every recording has its code of identification (ISRC). You can use the ISRC to spot data, such as sales of a recording.

So remember, you might need two different licenses for the two separate parts of the song:

  • The owner of the composition copyright: composers, lyricists, songwriters;
  • The owner of the recording copyright: performers, producers, sound engineers.

how to use copyrighted music

Source: Royalty Exchange 

Let’s have a look at an example to make things clearer.

The composition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” for example, covers the music and lyrics, but the recording performance of her singing “Respect” isn’t included in the composition section. The composition is separate from the sound recording of the artist performing it. For composition copyright, you’ll need to contact the owner of the composition copyright. 

When you want to make a cover and re-record someone’s work, it becomes your own master recording. So you no longer need a master license from the owner of the recording copyright. But you will still need a license from the publisher to use the composition and lyrics.

Now, we’re moving on to the types of licenses you might need.


  1. Identify What Type of Music License You Need

If you haven’t yet figured out in what format you want to use the song (video, game, film, etc.), you can hardly understand what type of license and rights you should get.

Let’s discuss the six types of music licenses.

  • Synchronization License

Let’s assume you want to add music to your video, TV show, or film. You’ll need to get the type of license that gives you the right to sync the music to your TV show, game, ad, or any other video you’re making.

  • Mechanical License

If you want to record yourself playing someone’s song or singing one of Adele’s songs’ lyrics, for example, you will certainly need a mechanical license. A mechanical license grants you permission to reinterpret or re-record a work.

  • Master License

Master license is often acquired along with a sync license. It gives permission to use the pre-recorded version but doesn’t give the right to re-record the music.

  • Public Performance License

Performance license applies to all the cases when you want to play the music in stores, restaurants, or any other public space.

  • Theatrical License

Are you going to submit your work (where the music appeared) to a movie theater? If yes, then you should get a theatrical license. Every time the copyrighted record is being performed on stage in front of an audience, a theatrical license is needed.

  • Print Rights License

Print rights license gives you permission to rearrange, print, or share the music notes or lyrics of a song without abusing the artist’s rights. 


Now that you’ve figured out which type of license will provide you with the rights you need, let’s spot the copyright owner and finally get the permission.


  1. Find the Copyright Owner

In general, the copyright is owned by the work’s creator, with some exceptions.

music copyright rules

Source: Melanie Kowalski

How to detect the copyright owner? Simply follow the steps mentioned below.

First of all, spot the copyright notice, and figure out all the indications of copyright ownership. Dig out all the information that can help you identify the copyright owner. It can be ISBN, the author's name, or any other information about the publisher.

There are three ways to extract the contacts of the copyright holder:

  • Extract data about the publisher from the U.S. Copyright Office database. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the protection process starts right after the work is created. If the work was registered in the U.S. Copyright Office, it should include information about the publisher. But keep in mind that even if the information is registered there, it might be outdated.


  • Numerous other databases can help you dig out the copyright owner’s contacts. Here are the top 3 sites you can use to detect the copyright owner:
  1. ASCAP(American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)
  2. ISWC (International Standard Musical Work Code)
  3. The United States Copyright Office


  • Use one of the online music licensing services that will conduct this process for you. These platforms have registered music with already identified contacts of those who hold the rights. The system separates similar works with keywords, making the process much easier for you. It finds the contacts, calculates the license price, and automatically formalizes the contract.


If these websites don’t help you with the contract or the song you’ve chosen doesn’t exist in their music library, you’ll be required to pursue the negotiations independently.


  1. Negotiate Permission Once You Find Contracts

Once you have successfully identified the copyright owner, it’s time for negotiations. 

Be prepared to communicate what rights you need. Clarity is important in negotiations. Since there are several types of licenses, you should be alert and watchful to ensure you acquire the right kind of permission.

Consider the following points of agreement:

  • License type; 
  • Number of times that are you going to use the music; 
  • The popularity of the song;
  • Term of the license;
  • Duration of the song;
  • Where the license can be applied;
  • Cost.


Depending on the intended usage for the copyright-protected music, the copyright holder might choose to grant their permission for free. 

The final stage of negotiations is to turn the agreement into a written format. This will help to circumvent all possible misunderstandings during the negotiations and in the future as well. Also, don’t forget that copyright owners don’t always respond to requests. If they refuse to give you permission, or you fail at tracking them down, it doesn’t mean you can use the music just because you tried. Unfortunately, you don’t get points for trying.


  1. What if Your Finances are Scarce?

On a brighter note, if you can’t afford to pay the record label to obtain the rights you need, there are other options. 

alternative options to find background music


Consider one of the following alternatives:

  • Use royalty-free music which will give you permission to use songs and background music without paying license fees for each use. 
  • Head to the public domain. There are stunning pieces of royalty-free music with expired copyright that you can freely use in your projects. Most classical music, for example, belongs to this category.



Making the right choice of music in videos is essential. But if the song you plan on using is one that’s copyrighted, you’ll need permission from the record label or whatever party owns the copyright. 

Be persistent in adding a musical component to your work without violating copyright laws. First and foremost, consider why you need that song and which license you should acquire. After successfully tracking down the copyright holder, be prepared to negotiate and get their permission. 

Do you already have your music and are ready to start making your video? Click the button below to discover hundreds of ready-made templates to help you create professional videos with ease!

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