Copyright-free music is music free of copyright claims. Copyright-free music is basically music that is free of any current claim of ownership of copyrights. Calling music “copyright-free” is quite often a misnomer, because most people use the term while referring more to the methods in which copyrighted music is licensed, rather than a copyright itself. Allow me to explain.
The only copyright-free music that exists in the world is music that has been released into the public domain in regard to the composed work and the recorded performance of it. However, when people are looking for copyright-free music, a majority of the time they are seeking music that can be used in a production or product without someone coming to them and claiming that they do not have permission to do so. Additionally, one would not want to continually have to pay a royalty on the use of that music as these products or productions are distributed. This would be in situations like using music in a YouTube video, music in a video on a paid membership site, music in a web commercial, online videos for a businesses website, sample for a song, and so on. Basically, use of music in a manner that supports another production, or where the music itself is not the primary focus is known as “incidental music.” Almost everyone knows that they can’t just take their favorite song from iTunes and pop it into their videos, but at the same time they don’t know the legalities behind or the sources from which major productions acquire music. Music does not need to be copyright-free to be used in a production, it just needs to be licensed. Fortunately licensing music is surprisingly easy. If you are seeking music for use in a video, presentation, on a company website, etc. consider these options that are listed from easiest to more difficult.
Quick overview of copyright
Before we jump into these options, a quick look at some aspects of music copyright is worth it. When it comes to recorded music, there are 2 copyrights at play. 1. The copyright on the work and 2. the copyright of the recorded performance. A work would refer to the composition itself. Ex. “Twist and Shout” was written by Phil Medley and Bert (Berns) Russell. The composition’s copyright is controlled by these writers, and music publishers that have ownership and/or control of the composition’s publishing. In fact, a composition’s control is split 50/50 across music publishers and writers. Check out our article on music publishers for more info
Sound recording copyrights come into play when we look at “Twist and Shout” again, and all of the different recordings of it, by acts such as: The Beatles, the Isley Brothers, The Who, The Kingsmen, etc. Each recording has a separate sound recording copyright. So, in order to use any recording of “Twist and Shout” one would need permission (normally, for a fee) from the writers, publishers, owner of the sound recording, and any other person who controls any interest in them (i.e. family members who still control copyrights, people who bought copyrights, etc.). Seem complicated? Well it is, but luckily there are some easy options available.
Online Royalty Free Music Libraries
As we mentioned, just because something is copyrighted doesn’t mean that it can never be used in a video or other production. You just need permission in the form of a license from all of the copyright holders to use the music for as long as you wish. Royalty-free music libraries such as Muserk.com allow you to purchase music for use in a production quickly, with permission to use it in a production forever. There is no need to pay any more than the initial licensing fee; hence, royalty free. But in the “Twist and Shout” example above, we see there are many parties involved in the licensing process, so how is this possible? The answer is that these libraries either own all associated copyrights or pre-clear every track’s copyrights for media usage, and can therefore license music in one easy step. Add to that the ease of purchasing online, and you can see that licensing a track online can be done very easily, from anywhere with an internet connection, any time of day. Have the urge to put the finishing touches of your video at 3 AM and need music to do so? Libraries like Muserk have you covered.
Music Released into the Public Domain
Public domain recordings of public domain music is truly copyright-free, which brings us to another viable, yet very limited, option. This would be finding and using of public domain recordings of public domain works, or creating your own recording of a public domain work. This would be true copyright-free music. The copyright on the work itself has to be released into the public domain either by the rights holders or it is automatically released into the public domain 70 years after the death of the composer. So in the instance where you only want to maneuver around composition copyrights you could record your own performance of a public domain work, but you will 1. need the talent to perform the work 2. the means to record the performance, and 3. will be essentially restricted to classical music, folk songs of the 1800s and earlier, religious hymns, and a handful of obscure works that individuals have released to the world for use. So where does that leave us with public domain recordings of public domain works? Basically, there are none. Not until 2067. That is when the first sound recordings will begin to be introduced into the public domain. Now of course there are always exceptions. Some people release recordings of their original work for personal use, and have stated this via a creative commons license. However those options become even more limited once you add commercial usage and monetization to the picture. So unless you want to wait until 2067 and go on the hunt for modern music that has been released to the public domain, you are better off going to a royalty-free music library.
License your favorite music from an artist
By now, you probably have a good idea what is involved to pull this off. Let’s say you did want The Beatles version of “Twist and Shout” for a web campaign video. Unless you wanted to wait until 2067 (the seventy year mark after the death of the composer also happens to fall within the same year), you’d need to contact every entity with a finger in the pie: Apple Records, current publishers, whoever represents the original writing team, and any other person with an interest. Additionally, to make it worth all of their time, the fee to license the music would be EXPENSIVE. Clearly, syncing the recording with a moving picture adds a very big complication when it comes to licensing popular works with so many interested parties. Again, you are better off going to a royalty-free music library.
So there you go. As you can see, there is really only one type of copyright-free music; public domain recordings of public domain songs. However, for most people, they are just looking for music that will be “free of copyright infringement claims” if they were to use it within their own work. Though copyright laws are very complicated, luckily there are easy solutions available to find and license music that can be used for as long as you need, free of copyright claims against your work.