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  • toby wray

Video Tips For Marketeers #15 Can I Use Music and Film/TV Clips?

(Me trying to work out if the Maltese Flag is copyrighted)

Music copyright

Music (much like film and most artistic works) is by default owned by the authors. Contributors such as the musicians or singers on recorded music, also have rights over its playing or reproduction. (see the end of this article for a definition of ‘Copyright’).

Generally the creator of a piece of music is the first owner of any copyright in the work. However, since copyright is a form of property, the creator can transfer the whole or part of their copyright in a work to another party (such as PRS or a record company – see below), so the author of the work is not necessarily the copyright owner.

You need to be aware of copyright laws, because if you want to use a piece of music in your project you must get permission from the copyright owner to use it. This might involve paying a fee and in the case of well- known pieces of music, this can be expensive.

Using music.

If you can find all the people involved and get their permission, you can use the music, though you may have to pay for the right. One way of doing this for people you do not know personally is through bodies such as the Performing Rights Society.

Clearing music can involve contacting two sets of people:

  • Publishers – these people own the rights to the words and music in written form. If you wanted to strum your own version of an Ed Sheeran song, you would need to get permission from these people

  • Record Company – they own the rights to the actual performance and recording itself.

For example, if you wanted to sing your own version of an Ed Sheeran song, you only need permission from the publishers. However, if you want to use an actual clip of the Ed Sheeran song, you would need to have permission from both the publishers and the record company.

Finding out further information about songs and what you need to do should be fairly simple; all the information is held by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) – see references for contact details.

Related bodies you may need to contact are:

Performing Right Society (PRS)

The PRS collects licence fees for the public performance and broadcast of musical works.

Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS)

The MCPS collects and distributes ‘mechanical’ royalties generated from the recording of music onto many different formats. This income is distributed to their members – writers and publishers of music.

Using Film and TV clips

Copyright applies for TV and film clips too. For example, you might be making a video about a game show winner and decide you’d like to include a clip of a TV programme like ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ You would need to get permission from the production company who makes the programme to use it. To find them, their details are usually on the credits of the programme. You may be charged a fee, and it may prove very expensive.

Movies are also covered by similar copyright laws – for example, if a film like ‘Snow White’ is playing on the TV in the background of one of your shots, Disney would have a right to come after you for not getting their permission to reproduce copyrighted work. Similarly with the radio – there could be music playing in the background which you didn’t notice and may end up causing copyright problems.

Using Stills

Copyright also applies to photography, paintings, sculptures and other forms of artwork, even if they’re on a greeting card or a wall in the back of a shop. You may be liable for expensive copyright charges for using these, so it’s safest to exclude any material for which you do not have written permission.

Avoiding Copyright Issues

You can try to avoid copyright issues completely by not including any copyrighted material in your project. If someone appearing in your work is wearing a T-shirt with a large obvious logo, ask him or her to change! This will be easier and less time consuming than blurring out the image in post-production! If you are filming in a house and a radio or TV is playing in the background, simply turn it off.

Planning how you will use and source music is a key production role. You can pay for tracks on a music site but there are lots of free tracks out there especially if you’re prepared to credit people. For a one off you may know a decent band who could record some original music but again it’s polite to credit people in such circumstances.

(Note the picture in the actors hand, very old and out of copyright.)

Public Domain

You could also use material that is in the public domain. The public domain means Intellectual Property (writing, artwork, music etc.) for which no person or organisation has any copyright. These works are considered part of the public’s cultural heritage and anyone can use and build upon them. Property is in the public domain if any of the following apply:

  • The work was created somewhere where copyright law does not exist

  • The work was created before copyright law existed (e.g. works of Shakespeare & Beethoven)

  • The copyright has expired. Copyright expires when all of the following have happened:

  • The work was created and first published at least 95 years before 1st January of the current year

  • The last surviving author died at least 70 years before 1st January of the current year

  • The Berne Convention (The Berne Convention Online) has not passed a perpetual copyright on the work

  • Neither the U.S. nor the E.U. has passed a copyright term extension since these conditions were last updated.

Therefore, you may be able to use some public domain work for free in your project, but you may need to do some research beforehand!

Intellectual Property This is property that comes from the work of the mind or intellect and includes an idea, an invention, a trade secret, a process, a program, data, or a formula. Like personal property (i.e. an object that you own like a TV), intellectual property can be purchased, assigned, licensed, pledged, transferred or leased.


This a legal right that protects creative works from being reproduced, performed, or distributed by others without the permission of the copyright owner.

As established by the Copyright Extension Act of 1998, copyrights owned by individuals last for the life of the author plus 70 years.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive rights to reproduce a protected work (make copies), make derivative works (sequels, spin-offs, action figures, posters, etc.), sell, transfer, or lend or lease copies of the protected work to the public, perform protected works in public, or display copyrighted works publicly.

Next week Who Owns My Work?

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