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Introduction to Music Copyright

Introduction to Music Copyright

If you are a content creator, you know that music can elevate your content and make it more engaging. But did you know that using music without permission can be a copyright violation? That’s right, even if you only use a short clip of a song, you could still be sued for copyright infringement.

Forms of Media that use music

Music finds its place in various realms: from films, television, and advertisements to trailers, on-air promotions, video games, user-generated content, and even the expanding universe of altiverses and metaverses.

Regardless of the medium, what do all of these areas have in common concerning music?

Each use of music, regardless of the platform, requires proper permissions, also known as obtaining “clearance”. This clearance could be in the form of a ‘work for hire’ agreement (collaborating with a composer), a music license (leasing from a music library or using a popular song), or utilizing a piece from the public domain. It’s crucial to acquire written permission from the copyright holder to ensure the legal use of the music.

For independent creators working on projects like indie films or documentaries, it’s often mandatory to produce these clearance documents when negotiating a distribution deal or entering a film festival.

True or False - you can use music if under 6 seconds? False

Let’s test your existing copyright knowledge.  True or False?

  1. You are allowed to use a piece of music in your production if it lasts less than six seconds. (FALSE)
  2. If you declare your work as “Fair Use” in the video description, it automatically qualifies as Fair Use, and you are not required to secure proper rights clearances. (FALSE)
  3. If you credit the copyright holder in the video description, you are automatically exempt from the need to secure proper rights clearances. (FALSE)

This series is specifically designed to give you a strong foundation and understanding of music copyright topics, including exclusive rights, fair use, work for hire, licensing, and more.

What does copyright include? Original works of authoriship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

In the United States, the United States Copyright Office is responsible for regulating copyrights (United States Copyright Office). Copyright law protects original works of authorship, which encompass a wide range of categories including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. This can include poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright protection applies to both published and unpublished works. Top learn more,  visit

At what point does someone have copyright protection? At the moment of creation.

As an author, you obtain copyright protection for your ORIGINAL work as soon as it is created, provided that it is original and exists in a tangible form that can be distributed. While copyright protection is automatic, it is always recommended to register your copyright with the copyright office for additional legal benefits.

How long is the standard copyright term? Life of the author plus 70 years

Copyright protection generally extends for the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. After this period, the work enters the Public Domain, meaning it becomes public property and is no longer subject to copyright restrictions. This allows anyone to freely use the work, including music, in their content without the risk of copyright infringement.

However, it’s important to note that different elements of a work may have separate copyrights. For instance, in the case of music, the composition and the sound recording can have distinct copyrights. When a piece of music is in the Public Domain, it could be the composition, the sound recording, or both. Therefore, it’s crucial to verify which part of the copyright is in the Public Domain before using the work.


  1. It is permissible to use copyrighted music if the duration is less than 6 seconds. (FALSE)
  2. In order to qualify for copyright protection, the work must be original. (TRUE)
  3. The creator of an original work obtains copyright protection at what specific moment? (At the moment of creation)
  4. How long does copyright protection last in relation to the life of the author? (For the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years)