Puzzled by Music Copyright? Find the Best Way to Deal With it

Puzzled by Music Copyright? Find the Best Way to Deal With it

13min read  

28 Jun 2019

Have you ever tried to use someone else’s music in your YouTube video? 

Now, imagine that you are making a very nice video. And as far as a successful video utilizes as many senses as possible, you might want to add one of the most effective senses to your video, that is sound. Most of the times, the music accounts for more than half of the impact made by videos

So you’ve found perfect music you want to add. Everything is ready. One last question remains; “How do I use someone else’s copyrighted art in my video, without getting slammed by YouTube with copyright strikes?”

We all seem to be feeling anxious and doubtful about getting music copyright. If you are in the same boat with us, then keep reading, and you’ll be introduced to the basics of how to get permission to use the music you want.


  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 the way that you are planning to use it. Where are you going to publish your work? Is it going to be in a private or public platform?


Private Use

If you are using the music in a video that will not get published anywhere but is made just for family, to enjoy at home or things like that, then cheer up! You’re on the safe side. You won’t need to get permission.


Public Use

But once you decide to use the music in a public video on YouTube or social media, then you should be prepared to do it lawfully. Otherwise, you will get copyright infringement.

The chart below records the number of cases of copyright infringement in Italy in 2018.

how to get permission to use a asong

So, this is how it goes. YouTube tracks down illegal users through software known as the Content ID. It helps to monitor the users and detect those who use copyrighted songs without a license. Detecting an unlawful use, YouTube blocks the channel if not worse.

using copyrighted music

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 are copyrighted.

Some works are not protected by property laws. They are sectioned under the “public domain”:

Copyright protection is no more valid 50 or 70 years after an 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 before 1924. “Public domain” music can be used without any worries for permission. 

Is the song you’ve chosen in the public domain? If that’s not your case, don’t worry. Follow the steps below and you will soon find out how to get permission.


  1. Identify the Rights You Need


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

The composition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” for instance, 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 an artist performing it. For composition copyright, you’ll apparently 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 regardless of this, you will still need the publisher’s license to use the composition and lyrics.

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


  1. What Types of Music Licenses do You Need?


If you haven’t yet figured out in what format the song is going to appear (video, game, film or what) you can hardly understand what type of license you need.

Let’s discuss the 6 types of music licenses.

  • Synchronization License

Let’s assume you want to add music to your video, TV show or film. Which type of license do you think you’ll need? This license will give you the right to “sync” the music to your video, TV show, Game, Ad, or any other work.

  • 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. Mechanical license accounts for permission to reinterpret or re-record a work.

  • Master License

Master license is often acquired along with sync license. It gives permission to use the pre-recorded version but doesn’t give a 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 this license is just for you. Every time the copyrighted work is being performed on stage in front of the public, you should obtain a theatrical license.

  • Print Rights License

Print rights license is used when it is needed to print the sheet music of the work.

Now, as you’ve figured out which type of license fits your work format, let’s spot the copyright owner and finally get the license.


  1. Spot the Copyright Owner


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

music copyright

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 data that can help you identify the copyright owner. It can be ISBN, the author's name, or any other info about the publisher.

There are three ways to extract the owner's contacts:

  • 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, then it should include information about the publishers. But keep in mind that even if the information is registered there, it might be changed by the time.


  • Numerous other databases can help you to dig the copyright owners’ contacts out.

Here are the top 3 sites you can use to detect the copyright owner:

  1. https://www.ascap.com/repertory
  2. ISWC (International Standard Musical Work Code)
  3. United States Copyright Office Public Catalog (online)


  • Some websites can conduct this process instead of you. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

The online music licensing services can simplify the process. These platforms have registered music with already defined contacts of those who hold the rights. The system separates similar works once you search with keyword or directly with the song. It finds contacts for you, calculates the license price and automatically formalizes the contract.

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


  1. Negotiate Permissions Once You Found 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 the negotiations since when you need several different types of licenses, you should be alert and watchful to observe the process and get the correct license.

get permission through negotiations

Source: Medium.com

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.

In some cases, when the usage of the music implies the enrichment of the audience for the owner, they might give the license for free.

The final stage of negotiations is to turn an agreement into a written format. This will help to circumvent all the possible doubts and misunderstandings during the negotiations and later in the process as well. Also, don’t forget that the copyright owners sometimes don’t respond to the requests. But even when they refuse to give the license or you just don’t succeed in tracking them down, it doesn’t yet mean that you can use the music without getting permission.


  1. What if Your Finances are Scarce?


alternative options to find background music

Source: WhoIsHostingThis.com

On a brighter note, if you can’t afford to pay for background music, consider one of the following options:

  • Use Royalty-Free music, which will give you the right to use copyrighted material without paying license fees for each use.  



Being aware of the importance of music in videos, don’t be worried about the copyright. Instead, 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 need to acquire. After successfully tracking down the copyright owner, be prepared to negotiate and get the license with the settling stage. 

All this process is worth your efforts because the music you choose can make your video go viral.

Good luck in dealing with the copyright issues!

Have you already decided which music to add to your video? You can use Renderforest editor to add music to your videos. It’s simple and professional. If you haven’t tried it yet, go ahead and give it a try. 

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