Personal View site logo
Make sure to join PV on Telegram or Facebook! Perfect to keep up with community on your smartphone.
Music Rights?
  • I want to base a short video on a pop hit of about 20 years ago.

    I'm not certain it even went national--it's sort of a genre piece--but I'd like to create a story to match the lyrics.

    Is there a way to do this legitimately?

    Is it expensive?

    Is it even important?

    Do I need to find out who owns the rights, and if so, how?



  • 22 Replies sorted by
  • @RBD you going to use the music off CD etc? Or reinterpret the music?

  • That's a sync license... Very hard.. It's not just a matter of paying a fixed price. You will have to contact BMI or the mechanical rights agency that is affiliated with the music... Can cost quite a bit... Happy birthday costs 25,000 to sync to picture!

  • Maybe try to find it on vimeo music - or YouTube music... It may be there?

  • What's the downside if I just do it?

    Different title, not searchable by google?

    Will they even know?


  • "Happy Birthday" is not in the Public Domain?


  • I wonder if one can get around this fees, if you get a permission by the artist itself?

    If you ask him if you can officially use his work in an art-project (like a music video, short film,...) as long as you make no profit with it? (or maybe even with earning some money with it?) The artist might have an interest in getting his work "promoted" by your video.

  • You need a sync license from the copyright holder of the music (composition/arrangement and lyrics), typically a music publishing company. You also need master use rights from the master recording's copyright holder, typically a record label. The copyright holder information is probably printed right on the CD and its inserts.

    Good luck. It's doable, but I anticipate it would only be profitable for you if you are selling the final product.

  • I've been lucky just contacting publishers like @balazer says.

    You can plead, do deals or haggle. Seems to me they aren't well placed to be too picky.

  • Safe way: Use right free music. But this is not what you look for, when interpreting a song with video.

  • @RBD

    Are you planing on posting your video online?? If so YouTube uses software to scan every video for music that is on their database. It then alerts the rights owners and they can make a choice as to how to proceed. For example if they think that you are helping their brand (free advertising) the they let you use it. But you would need to use it in a home video sort of way...

    Hope this helps...

  • I got an Aimee Mann clip way back when for my short film, just by contacting the artist. If they like your film, they will help to get you the rights. On my last film I got Marshall Crenshaw to contribute music, but his manager was not that helpful. But generally companies don't sue someone who has no money, it's a waste of time...unless you're the RIAA. They seem to enjoy it.

    I've been in a lot of festivals and to be honest, just use it. If you get to the point of recognition with your film that someone notices, that actually means people are watching your film; then deal with it. And as far as Youtube goes, many people have to post copyrighted music for their demo reels. I have my directed music videos from NYC on Youtube and Vimeo and you have the right under "Fair Use Copyright". If your story is political or has social merit, or the clip is for "promotional use only" you can post it and let them decide. Usually, if there is an objection they will block it in "some" countries.

    You can see for yourself on my youtube channel if you like-

  • As a composer myself (kind of in the name I think) there is always a part of me that says: "Why use that sound byte of music".

    There are most probably 1000's of songs out in the wild that you could get rights to use easily that would either sound the same or similar.

    Its always better to make sure everything is 100% legit before you make your splash. There are also a tone of film composers - or even garage musicians that would whip you something up crazy good.

    I have always found it humorous that people don't rip off long scenes of films for their audio projects. There is very little difference- just swapping mediums. But I suppose that the Downfall parodies are alone on that front. (pun intended).


  • I agree with @alcomposer above. Do check - I know someone who invested in a load of time to do a video and included a song from the 1940s and when she checked, after she'd finished editing it, she found out she would never be able to have the rights to broadcast (ie, make it available on the soundtrack of her video) as the rights owner had specifically forbidden it to be used in any form of radio or TV broadcast. As the video contained a sequence that had been meticulously edited to fit this very specific song, she eventually had to abandon a large chunk of the edit. Lesson learned, of course, which is to check first.

    OTOH, the school choir I accompany did a show at Cheltenham town hall and a parent videoed it. We thought it was great to be able to show the parents, and in order to "do the right thing" I contacted the publisher, and they created an agreement which basically speficified the URL and the form of words on the video crediting the composer / arranger / publisher. This cost $25 - which I thought was pretty good to keep things legit. It just involved me putting a signature on the pdf agreement they created, then emailing it back, plus phoning up with a card payment. I was surprised it wasn't more money. Given we didn't know it was going to be videoed, the publisher did it very quickly considering and next time I'd definitely do it the correct way (with more notice). But this was a performance of a work for which the publisher had all the rights, so there was only one bunch of people to deal with.

    And - do ask the rights holder(s). This might be a publisher and / or composer, and if not the same people, the recording company as well. They may be very happy that you have asked. I have had my own music reposted on YouTube and that's fine if people ask and credit me. I've also found a couple of instances where my music was reposted without asking and without crediting me - and emailed YouTube who removed them in minutes. YouTube is pretty swift and ruthless if you have the law on your side. If you've spent a while editing a video and that happens to you, it's a bummer, of course, but of course by posting a video you are acknowledging that it is all entirely your content or content that you have permission to post.

    @Lincoln11 Fair use (I think) only applies in the US. And IP rights are (IMO) only just about keeping up with the way people use music etc nowadays; but you don't want to go pissing off lawyers. They eat their young.

  • @Lincoln11

    I have my directed music videos from NYC on Youtube and Vimeo and you have the right under "Fair Use Copyright". If your story is political or has social merit, or the clip is for "promotional use only" you can post it and let them decide.

    Whatever youtube may decide, that's not the basis for "fair use". If you use a clip for the purpose of commenting on it, or to review it, that usually constitutes "fair use". However, if the clip becomes a part of your program, such as music accompaniment, there's no presumed right to use it under U.S. copyright law, regardless of what your program is about.

  • @RBD the CD itself will have the rights info printed on the CD or box. If you are using a copy with no printed text information then stick it into a media player and you should be able to find out the rights information from an online database once the CD is recognised.

    If it will never be seen outside of a handful of people, you could just stick it on vimeo with a private URL and hope for the best. But if it's any good, the problem is it's out of your control who shares it.

    As a rule of thumb rights usually last for 70 years after the composer's / author's death, or 70 years after the work was published for the first time (if later) so hope that helps.

  • Yes, it helps! Thanks @Mark_the_Harp.

    BTW, if anyone intends getting too relaxed about intellectual property law, put all your wealth offshore or form a limited liability Company which does offer a certain level of protection.

  • @goanna Thanks! And I hope I don't come across as some holier-than-thou type about copyright, because like (I'm sure) most people I've got the odd bit of stuff that is a copy of something I should have paid for. But putting an illegal copy of someone's music (or whatever) out in public is a bit more of a risk!

    In terms of the "70 years" rules, the US had a period of 50 years for a while, and when they signed up to the Berne agreement there were a few works which had their copyright extended. I believe "Happy Birthday to You" was one of those. Even if it's not, Happy Birthday is an example of something that dates from first publication, which is later than the death of the original authors - and one that's been challenged from time to time as to whether it's still in copyright or not.

  • My point is to put things into context. Do not let "possible copyright problems in the future when you sell your Youtube clip for millions of dollars" stop you from working out a creative idea in your head. It's probably not a good idea to base a story around a specific song though.

    In film editing we use temp tracks of copyrighted music all the time to get an idea, and show the composer. If you choose a song and base your edit on it, be prepared to change it if problems arise, not b

  • ...not before. That's what editing is- revisions.

    The concern of copyright infringement is serious if your film's final destination is a commercial one. But if it's for online presentation without fees or payment, don't let it prohibit you. If your clip is rejected, you just find an alternate. Spending so much time dealing with copyright issues on a 3 minute video for Youtube is a waste of time. Again if you're talking about a short for film festivals or for potential commercial sale, then the above series of posts are a good start.

    Happy holidays, make your film!

  • Thank You, Gentlemen... for making this a very informative thread.

    The song describes one particular woman--of course--and I wanted to illustrate it.

    It's a song that touched my heart.

    Unfortunately for me.

    Still, I may go through the mechanics of contracting the appropriate powers that be.

    Thanks again,


  • "Met my old lover in a grocery store..."

    Sorry getting all nostalgic. Hey, it's the holidays. Good luck man.