If you are making use of music in your content or business, here are five copyright matters to consider.
01: When you make a cover version – make sure it’s licensed
Lots of music-makers perform and record songs that have been written by other people. When that happens, someone needs to make sure that the writers and publishers of those songs have issued a licence and are paid the royalties they are due.
In many circumstances, this isn’t something the music-maker needs to worry about themselves. When an artist performs a cover version live, it is usually the responsibility of the concert promoter or venue to secure a licence and pay the song royalties, usually via PRS. When a cover version is made available via a streaming platform or download store, that platform or store often takes care of licensing the song and paying the song royalty.
However, there are scenarios where this is the responsibility of the music-maker. If an artist was to self-release a cover version physically – eg on CD or vinyl – they would need to get a licence covering the song rights. You can usually get that licence from MCPS. That also applies to downloads (although not streams) that are sold in the US – though many DIY distributors offer a service to help music-makers pay that royalty.
02: When you put music into a video – make sure it’s licensed
If you upload a cover version to a user-upload or social media platform, that platform may have licences from the music publishers and collecting societies, in which case you do not need to worry about the song rights and royalties. But if the platform does not have a licence then you will be infringing someone’s song copyright and you might find that your video is blocked by the copyright owner.
If you upload a video containing someone else’s music to a user-upload or social media platform, you need to think about copyright.
Some user-upload and social media platforms have licences from the music industry that cover user-generated content. In which case you should be fine. However, whoever owns the copyright in the music might request that adverts be placed alongside your content and claim a share of the income generated by that advertising.
If the platform does not have a licence then you will be infringing the recording and song copyrights of other people. As a result your video may well be blocked by the copyright owner. Even if a platform has a licence, it possibly only covers true user-generated content. Businesses uploading videos to that platform are not always covered by the platform’s licence and may need to sort out licensing for themselves.
So, if the platform is unlicensed, or you’re a business uploading videos, what should you do? For commercially released music this can be a challenge because you may have to secure licences from multiple people or companies. Remember, the song and the recording are separate, the mechanical rights and performing rights may be licensed separately, and there may be multiple owners of the copyright, especially the song copyright.
Another option is to license so called production music from a music library. This is music that is specifically designed for use in video and which is generally much easier and cheaper to license. Some music libraries license via the collective licensing system – which would be MCPS/PRS in the UK – while others license video-makers directly. And some music libraries are specifically set up for people posting videos to user-upload websites.
03: If you use music in a public space – make sure it’s licensed
Whenever music is played or performed in public – which basically means anywhere outside the private home or car – licences are required.
However, live and public performance is usually licensed through the collecting societies, which simplifies things, because the societies usually provide a blanket licence covering all the music in their respective catalogues.
If the music is being performed live, you need a licence from PRS. If recorded music is being played you technically need a licence from both PRS and PPL – however the two societies now offer a joint licence covering songs and recordings called TheMusicLicence
If you are staging a live event, the venue you are using may already have licences from PRS and PPL that covers all the music you use. If not, then you will need to secure licences yourself. The websites for PRS, PPL and TheMusicLicence explain what licences are available and what they cost.
There are other options for people wanting to play music in public spaces, with agencies and societies that can provide you access to a smaller catalogue of music usually at a lower price. However, most songs and recordings are covered by (and therefore only available via) the PRS/PPL licences.
04: If you use music for your business consult an expert
Once you start using commercially released music in videos as a business – whether that means movies, games, adverts or simple promotional videos – licensing becomes more complex.
You will likely be exploiting multiple copyrights and multiple controls, and will therefore probably have to do multiple deals. It pays to hire an expert in music licensing to make sure you get this right. Or, alternatively, you could consider using music from a production music library.
This is even more true if you are a business planning to launch some sort of online service that uses music, for example a new streaming or user-upload platform. Licensing music for online services is complex and – if your service is very innovative – you may need labels, publishers and collecting societies to put together a bespoke kind of licence. This takes time and expertise. To get it right you are going to need to hire music licensing experts and specialist legal advisors.
05: You can be sued if you use music without permission
If you upload other people’s music to unlicensed platforms online, there is a high chance that your content will be blocked by the copyright owner.
But remember, you could also be sued for copyright infringement. Because the law tells copyright owners that if a third party exploits their music without first getting permission, they can sue that person for damages.
That said, nobody likes suing people and no one likes being sued! So the best approach is to always ensure that any music being used is properly licensed. Which means, whenever you make use of music – at a live event, in a video, online or in any other way – check if the platform or venue you are using is already fully licensed. And if not, look into licensing the music yourself.