If you’re a video creator and want to begin publishing your videos on YouTube, you’ve likely heard of their stringent enforcement against copyright violations. This affects every video creator from amateurs to gamers, crafters to advertisers, and is in place to protect the art created by masterful professionals from being exploited for gain.
As a professional yourself, you know that a single copyright violation could ruin your career. If a video you created for a client gets pulled, not only will you have to repay your client, you could be on the hook for projected losses. If that video was monetized, you’re also on the hook for damages to the music’s copyright holder. However, does this mean you need to pay to play music on YouTube?
The short answer for any song you’ve heard on a stereo created after 1922, is YES. You must have the permission of a song’s copyright holder to play it on youtube, and the easiest way to get permission is to purchase a license. This means too, that if any of your YouTube videos become monetised, you are required to pay royalties for each time the song plays.
Unfortunately, when it comes to music, there is no easy way to track down a songs copyright owner. You might get lucky when contacting the studio that recorded the album, or there may be five different owners to a single song. There is no unified catalouge or library which contains a list of songs and their copyright owners.
However, there are a few ways you can put music freely into your YouTube videos. Currently, any song released on or before 1922 is considered to be in the public domain. This includes a massive swath of powerful instrumental and classical music. What’s more, some artists have proactively released their music into public domain, and in some cases – irreversible accidents were made, where songs such as “Love Me Do” by The Beatles end up in public domain. No one owns, nor ever will, own the copyright on public domain items, and they can be used freely, for financial gain.
Royalty free music, or stock music, is music that is licensed either free or with a one-time charge, to you. Licences can be for free or monetised use and may change price accordingly. More so, royalty free music is still copyrighted, and the owner can (within the stipulations of your license) revoke your right to use their music. A Royalty Free song’s licence can change, or change hands, and the new owner can rescind all usage rights. In many of these cases, the copyright owner is not obligated to notify the license holders, meaning that if you don’t pay attention, your royalty Free song can become a royal pain.
Commissioning a song for your video may be a cheaper alternative. By law, a commissioned item of art is the legal property of the person who commissioned it, not the artist who created it. You can do whatever you like with it, give it away, recycle it, sell copies of it, or put it in your YouTube videos.
Commissioned music has no royalties, (unless they are paid to you), but has a more expensive initial price point, than a license for a song to which you would pay royalties. However, if you think you will be able to recycle a song in multiple videos, or you know your video will be around for a long time, a commissioned piece may be the way to go.