We’ve all seen videos on YouTube with this tag underneath: “I do not own the rights to this music.” But does that mean anything from a legal perspective? And, if you’re planning to post a video with music, you also don’t own the rights to, can you also use this tagline as a get out of jail free card?
The answer to both of these questions is, unfortunately, NO! Just because you’ve written that you don’t own the music doesn’t excuse you from using it without gaining the correct permission.
Imagine you took someone’s car without permission – would you then put up a big sign in the window saying “I don’t own this car”? As we’ll find out, legally, this amounts to about the same thing. (Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and this article does not constitute legal advice.)
Why Don’t You Own the Rights to This Music?
If we return to our car example, we can ask the question, why don’t you own this car? Usually, the answer is very simple – because it belongs to someone else. If it’s your car, you’ve got nothing to worry about, and it’s the same thing with intellectual property.
The person who made the song you used and/or produced it (rights are often owned by production companies and not the artists themselves) owns the track. But you might think, “I can listen to this track for free on YouTube anyway, so what’s the difference?”
Well, there is a big difference, and here it is…
The owner of this song is allowed to post it on YouTube or anywhere else, for that matter. They might do this for exposure or just to entertain people. But either way, they get to decide where and how people get to enjoy their song.
They may post it as a music video, in which case, they’ve chosen the artistic expression they want to match the song. Or, they could just post it as an audio track for people to enjoy purely as audio with no video associations.
It’s up to them. Imagine you see a car every day, either parked or driving down the road – does that give you any right to drive it? No.
What is Copyright Infringement?
To explain copyright infringement, we first have to define copyright. Music copyright is a right to intellectual property that is legally recognized in the US and most other countries.
It gives rights of ownership, copying, and distribution to the owner and protects them from others misusing or misrepresenting their music for a limited period. This period is for the life of the copyright holder plus 60 years in the US and usually between 50-100 years in other countries.
It’s pretty straightforward…
Copyright infringement as defined by the U.S. Copyright Office, is when someone copies, distributes, publicly displays, or performs a copyrighted work without permission. In the case of creating and posting a video using someone else’s song on it, we’re looking at “publicly displaying” that song.
To put it simply, if you don’t own it or get permission, then you are not respecting the copyright of the owner.
Can You Get In Trouble for Copyright Infringement?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a big-time content creator or you’re just making a silly little video of your dog. If you post a video on Facebook or YouTube or any of the other media giants out there and you use a song that’s not yours without permission, you can face several consequences.[bl]
- You may be contacted with “Cease and Desist” (both these words mean stop!) letters from the copyright owner or, more likely, their legal representation. This counts as a legal written warning, and if you don’t stop using the song, they will have proof that they told you to stop.
- You could be sued. Whether or not you get warning letters first, you may be sued by the owner of the song. And the thing is, they are protecting their legal rights, and if you’ve posted your video in a public place, they’re very likely to win in court. This could cost you a lot of money.
- Much more likely, however, is that your video will be de-monetized by YouTube. See, YouTube has to show that they are at least trying to follow the law. Therefore, they hunt down copyright infringements and enforce policies against them.
- Also, quite likely, your account on YouTube or whatever platform you use may be blocked or deleted. If you’re a content creator making a living from publishing videos, this is the LAST thing you want to happen.
Wait, What About Fair Use?
That’s a fair question! “Fair Use” is a legal doctrine. That means it is a set of rules about what can be considered fair when using someone else’s copyrighted work. In other words, it is not always against the law to use someone else’s song without their permission.
But, and that’s a big but, fair use laws are not very clear, and it’s not always so easy to protect yourself. To determine if it is fair to use someone else’s copyrighted song, a judge must consider four factors:
[nb]1[/nb] The purpose and character of the use
If you’re making money from it, that’s considered worse than if it’s for just fun or, better yet, educational purposes. By “character,” I mean whether your use of the song is “transformative” or not.
Does it change the meaning or expression of the song? If yes, that might be fair use (like in a parody song or a critique). If you’re just using it for background music, you’re out of luck here.
[nb]2[/nb] The nature of the copyrighted song
If the song lyrics recount real events instead of fiction, you may have a case for fair use.
[nb]3[/nb] The amount of the song used and the part used
If you use a tiny snippet of the song in your video, you may not have to worry. But, if you use the whole thing or an important, recognizable part of the song (like a well-known chorus), that’s not fair use.
[nb]4[/nb] The effect of your use on the market value of the original
If the way you use the song takes money out of the copyright holder’s pocket – like claiming you are the artist, for example, this is not fair use.
So, let’s think about two different examples
In Jo’s 10-minute video, a 30-second clip of a well-known song about the Irish “Troubles” is used for a quote about how people felt in those difficult times. Jo goes on to discuss politics and has used the song only to introduce the topic. This is probably going to be considered fair use.
In Sam’s 2-minute skydiving video, a smash hit song plays as the background music the whole time. This is not going to be considered fair use.
If you want to learn more about fair use, especially on YouTube videos, you can read more here.
How to Avoid Copyright Issues
Whether you’re a pro content creator, an upstart, or someone just mucking around, there are plenty of ways to include music in your videos without infringing on copyrights and getting in trouble. Putting “I do not own the rights to this music” under your video is not good enough.
Use Original Music
One way is to produce your own music. Oh yeah, easy, right? Well, there are ways to do this that aren’t so tough if you’re not a musician or producer.
For example, Apple’s free app, Garageband, includes lots of pre-made loops that you can learn to drag and drop to put together your own tracks. You can learn how in this 10-minute video.
Use Built-in Stock Music
If making music isn’t your thing, the next best bet is to use the royalty-free music included on YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms.
Facebook has a Sound Collection, and YouTube has its Audio Library built in to offer you hundreds of songs for your video’s background music. This is a free and royalty-free option to avoid copyright infringement.
Use Stock Music Libraries
Just like stock image libraries, stock music libraries are out there exactly for the purposes you need. You can find royalty-free or very cheap music on hundreds of sites like Stockmusic.net and Audiojungle.net.
These sites can allow you to get music to use with permission, either free or for as little as $1 a song. The benefit of this is that you can find millions of unique tracks to choose from so that your video doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.
Just be sure that you check the usage allowed on a track before you buy it. That’s because many sites allow artists to still keep some rights over their songs.
If you want to use a copyrighted song in your video, of course, you can always find out who the copyright holder is and request their formal permission. If you’re a big enough influencer, you might even get it. But, for most of us, you’d be lucky just to receive a polite “no” in reply.
On the Search for Some Sweet Songs to Use in Videos?
We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on How To Find New Music and Do You Need Permission To Upload A Cover Song To YouTube for more useful information.
Also, check out our comprehensive articles on the Best Songs about Friday, the Best Songs About Friendship, the Best Songs About Magic, and the Best Songs about Fighting for more song selections that you might be able to use in your videos.
And, don’t miss our in-depth reviews of the Best Studio Headphones For Home Recording, the Best Audio Interface, the Best Hardware Sequencers, the Best DJ Mixer, and the Best Keyboard Synthesizer you can buy in 2023.
I Do Not Own the Rights to This Music – Final Thoughts
I hope I’ve made it clear that putting “this is not my music” or “no copyright infringement intended” under your video does not get you off the hook. It may even be a red flag for people searching for copyright infringements.
However, under Fair Use, there are still a few ways you can safely use copyrighted music.
But, instead of causing yourself headaches or worse, there are lots of other ways to get music legitimately. That way, you can be sure that your videos won’t be de-monetized, and your accounts won’t be blocked. So, you can keep on creating content to keep your followers happy.
Until next time, good luck and happy listening.