Copyright Matters

Ahh music. “I really need to have a great musical intro. It’ll make the show.” Will it though? And where will that music come from? Yes, you bought the album, for those old school listeners, or downloaded the song but that doesn’t mean you can use it in a podcast or video or for anything other than your own listening pleasure.

The way this works is a bit arcane, Byzantine even. The right to use a work of music is owned by different entities at different points in the life of a piece of music and you need all your ducks in a row before publication. Some of the people with a finger in  the pie include: the writers, the performers (but not always), the original publishers, the record company, the record company’s subsidiaries in each geographic market, think countries, or their agents and on and on. It’s, as they say, complicated. Even if you know a solo performer, a singer-songwriter, say, and they have a deal with a record company, you can’t use their music without the written permission of their music company. 

Remember we’re just talking about a short musical intro to a podcast.

But a one off can’t hurt and I’d be publicising the artist. Yeah, nah. 

Music companies have been using bots for some years now to trawl through podcasts and Youtube videos to find copyright breaches. And these companies are notoriously litigious.

There’s a famous/infamous case from a few years ago. I poker podcast, of all things, was using whatever they wanted as a musical intro and they were, if memory serves me correctly, about 50 episodes in when the first letter arrived. It turns out it was polite and along the lines of “you may not realise but” and also please remove all the copyright material from all your episodes. This was ignored and the letters became increasingly demanding until the last threatened to sue for $50,000 per breach of copyright. Still no response. The legal action began and the hosting service was notified they had a podcast in breach of copyright. The hosting company immediately pulled the show so they weren’t sued for the same amount. Now I’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide if each breach meant each episode or each download. The numbers are significantly different.

A good rule of thumb is if I didn’t create it, don’t use it.

There is a licence called a creative commons licence that allows you to use some material. The licence varies from have at it to use but acknowledge the source. The other alternative is a thing called Youtube Audio Library of music and sound effects that are free to use in a “have at it” way. Link in the transcript.

The other area that comes up is “fair usage”. This is messy and unless I have the written permission of the author, musician, rights owner I don’t rely upon this legal idea. There’s a link in the transcript from an American Lawyer explaining how that works there. Remember they have their first amendment which much of the rest of the world doesn’t so be careful, cautious and conservative with your use of other people’s work.

Really, unless you absolutely have to have a quote or a clip or a tune from someone else just create your own content.



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