FAQ – Music Copyright


Music is an important part of a film and while finding that one song or tune to perfectly fit the imagery and mood of your latest masterpiece can be a Herculean task, usually one of three options present themselves as a viable solution.

One is create the music yourself. With the technology readily available these days, anyone with the talent and know how can record their own noodlings be it via guitar, keyboard or nose flute.

Another is to seek out non-copyright music on the internet, created expressly for projects such as short filmmaking. There are many such outlets offering quality copyright free tracks, some of which have been listed in the LINKS TO OTHER SITES widget on the left hand side of this site.

Finally – and arguably the most popular method – is to sift through your record collection and find that classic hit which will add that final layer of magical texture to your project.

It is this last choice that comes with the most legal hurdles to overcome. As much as we might like to think so, it really isn’t as easy as sticking your favourite Elvis song onto your film in the name of art, there is the small matter of copyright and ownership to consider first, which can lead to a lot of trouble and your film being taken down from public sites like YouTube, etc for infringement.

So what are the rules and regulations? Lady Annabelle of Lancaster has – without a hint of irony – lifted the following guidelines from the IAC site to help explain in great detail the ins and outs of copyright, usage and how to stay on the right side of the law.

1. Are my ideas protected by copyright?

There is virtually no copyright in ideas. This has been challenged in the British Courts but remains broadly true.

2. Is my original footage copyright protected?

Yes unless you have assigned the rights to someone else. If you are working on commission check the contract small print.

3. What about copyright on other material I may use?

Almost any other material you use may well be the copyright property of someone else. This applies to photographs, paintings, statues, record covers, book covers, advertisements, packaging, scripts, music etc. In general no objection is made if such things appear fleetingly in the background of the action but they should not be featured.

4. What is the copyright position in competitions?

Virtually all movie/photographic competitions require you to clear copyright on your entries. This particularly applies to music.

5. What is music copyright all about?

It seems easy and is technically simple, to dub a piece of music from a CD, disc or tape onto your soundtrack. BUT …

  • The composer, lyricist, arranger and their heirs have copyright on music and songs until 70 years after their death.
  • The company which made the recording has rights in its recorded form.
  • The performers, playing or singing, have rights.
  • The public performance of the work requires special permission.

It is worth noting that it is an offence to make a recording of copyright music even if that recording is not played back!

There are stiff penalties for infringing ANY of these rights. Obtaining all of these permissions is possible but normally difficult and expensive.

6. Who can and cannot us the IAC Copyright Clearance Schemes ?

  • All IAC members can obtain the special copyright licences (MCPS, BPI, PPL) for music that they may wish to use in movies or slide tape presentations.
  • IAC Affiliated Clubs can obtain the licences for CLUB productions that are in fact credited to the club.
  • Members of Affiliated Clubs cannot use the club’s licences for their own productions. Conversely, a non affiliated club cannot use the personal licences of one of its members for a club production!

7. What about downloads?

Music downloaded from the web is subject to exactly the same copyright issues as CDs you buy over the counter.

8. Can I put my movies on the web?

If your movie contains anything whose copyright belongs to others, you must have permission from the copyright owner/s. In the UK an agreement between the music trade and YouTube means material used under IAC licences is usually – but not always – permitted on that website.

We hope that addresses and answers any concerns you may have if not post a comment below and we shall try to answer them in depth for you.

Thanks for reading!

3 Replies to “FAQ – Music Copyright”

  1. Sounds like a minefield for the unwary!

    Article 6 indicates that ‘All IAC members can obtain the special copyright licences (MCPS, BPI, PPL) for music that they may wish to use in movies or slide tape presentations.’. May sound a silly question, but can it be assumed that the additional fee paid on top of membership covers the inclusion old vinyl discs and DVDs and is the ‘special copyright licence’ required.

    In addition I heard, somewhere, that the name of, composer, performer, title of music or whatever should not be listed in the credits to any productions in which the music has been used, unless direct permission from the copyright holder has been obtained. Does anyone reading this know if that is correct? Seems a shame if that is correct!

    1. I don’t know about the first question Andy, but I would assume so. I’m sure Annabelle or someone more clued in can answer you properly.

      The second part however I can vouch for as being true. I spent ages seeking out the publishing details for the songs I used in DEXTER only to be told to take them off the credits after the first edit! >.<

  2. As it’s the music itself that bears the copyright I would’nt think the method of playing it matters.

    The BPI licence says “b) The names of all instrumental groups, bands, orchestras, choruses, solo artists and/or performers shall NOT be identified in subtitles or credits etc.
    As you say, Andy, ‘a minefield’ but we can only do our best to comply with the rules.

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