Using Music Legally

By on Jul 19, 2012

Music is a great tool – along with video, pictures, and audio – that can add life and interest to most any message. And, you want to make sure that when you do use music to spice up your video you have the proper rights to do so.

It is illegal to use copyrighted commercial music when publishing most anything online. For example, YouTube has developed a copyright-protection system that detects unlicensed uses of copyrighted music tracks inside videos published online and silences them or blocks them from public viewing.

When looking for music to use in videos that you charge for, you need to make sure the copyright for it allows commercial use, and/or that you have permission from the author. If you don’t plan to make any money, then most Creative Commons, non-commercial music is okay. If you’re not sure, ask the author. And be sure to familiarize yourself with the different Creative Commons license types.

Royalty-free music means that you either download music tracks for free or you pay a one-time fee to gain access to music. Then, you can do everything the original artist allows you to make with it and for as many times as you want.

When music is royalty-free, the rights on the music tracks you download / purchase are generally regulated by Creative Commons licenses, which specify exactly what you can and cannot do with that music. For example, there might be some restrictions regarding commercial use, adaptation or redistribution placed by the original author. Therefore, it is important to make sure you carefully read the licenses associated with each track you intend to use.

Independent (indie) musicians can be a good source of music. They often release their music under a CC license, because they find that making tracks available for free or for a small fee is a much better way to earn a reputation and a strong following of fans.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of royalty-free music services on the Web that will help you find just the right music, no matter which kind of artist, genre, duration time, or quality you need to match your video or audio production needs.

Here are some of the best resources available online. Some are a combination of free/paid sites and others don’t allow commercial use, while others request that you credit the artist. Again, make sure to read the Terms of Service so you know how you can use the tracks.

Royalty Free Music Websites

Jamendo is an online music community where musicians publish their songs in a royalty-free fashion under a Creative Commons license. It is free to join and you don’t have to register with the site to download music. If you need to use Jamendo music for commercial uses, you will need to join Jamendo PRO, where you pay a variable rate to gain unrestricted access to every track depending on your multimedia project.

Opsound is a royalty-free music service where you can download free, open music tracks without registering. All music tracks submitted by indie artists are licensed under a Creative Commons license and are also available for commercial use. Opsound strongly encourages every commercial use of tracks on the site to be regulated with the artist herself.

Dig.ccMixter is a service where you can browse the music archive of the ccMixter community music site, which offers a vast selection of royalty-free music tracks released under a Creative Commons license. You can find and download free MP3 music tracks for either personal or commercial use. On the download window of some music tracks you can also access cc-licensed project files or samples of single instruments that you can use to create your own remixes or music projects.

Free Music Archive
The Free Music Archive is a royalty-free music resource where you can download open and unrestricted music tracks to enrich multimedia projects like video clips. You can also share all music tracks you download, but you are not allowed to remix or sell them. Commercial use is not allowed. Registration is not necessary to download songs, which are distributed in the MP3 file format.

Incompetech is a royalty-free music service created by composer Kevin MacLeod, which offers original and unrestricted music tracks for free download. All songs downloaded from Incompetech can be used for either personal or commercial video projects. Using the dedicated search engine on the site you can filter your music search by genre, feel or keywords.

Audionautix is another music download site for royalty-free music tracks. All songs are divided into five categories: Film / Orchestra, Rock / POP / Blues, Acoustic and Tech / Urban / Dance. You can use all the music tracks for both free and commercial use as long as you always credit the author, Jason Shaw, and his website. All royalty-free music tracks are available in MP3 file format.

Vimeo Music Store
The popular video sharing community Vimeo has launched a music library where you can buy tracks to use in your video projects. You can download tracks released under two different kinds of licenses: Personal (for non-commercial videos) and Limited Commercial (for professional purposes). Users can browse through Vimeo’s collection by searching by genre, tempo, theme, mood or a specific instrument. Free tracks are also available.

Epitonic is a completely free online music library where you can search and download original songs for your multimedia projects. Episonic allows you to use the material on the website for personal or educational purposes only, which means that you may need to contact the owner of the track for copyright permissions. All tracks are available in MP3 and ready for download with a simple right-click.

Do you have a favorite royalty-free music site that we didn’t mention? Let me know.

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