…it made them richer. How?

“Copyright”. In the digital age, individual interpretations fluctuate massively but the law remains: any person using a piece of copyrighted work MUST gain the permission of the rights holder. There are lots of videos that use well-known music, but many people don’t realise is that the music is being used illegally.

Let me tell you a little story. I was once approached by a company and asked to explore costs for a light-hearted video to support their charity of the year. The company had identified some well-known music tracks that they wanted to feature in the video, so and off I went to get quotes for permissions.

Out of six tracks, three were massively over budget, two labels didn’t respond and one refused to offer a quote.

How does music ownership work?

You see, music ownership is complex. Many tracks are “owned” by a number of people, perhaps a producer, singer, musician and a songwriter, and together they own the “Performance Rights”. Then there is the record label that owns the “Publishing Rights”. To get correct permission, all of these people have to agree to the usage and more importantly have to agree the price.

There is a fascinating piece of law (well I find it interesting anyway…) called Most Favoured Nations, which is used a lot in the music industry. Say a songwriter, a musician and a producer each own a third of a track. The producer may suggest a fee of £1000 for their share, but if the songwriter wants £2000 and the musician £3000, they all up their fee to match the highest one offered. So the rights to the track now becomes a £9000 fee to satisfy all parties.

What may have surprised you is that one label refused. When a track gets popular it has massive potential to earn money, so a label has to be careful about what that track gets associated with. They might not want to accept many lower-cost projects in the hope of sealing a massive international campaign with enormous fees. So because our video would have been for a relatively local audience it wasn’t what they were aiming for and despite it being for a charity, they refused. This isn’t them being stingy – the band in question donate generously to charity – but theoretically they can’t give as much to their chosen charity if they accept lower-paying fees so they only accept the higher ones.

So what can be used instead?

All is not lost though. There is a huge market for royalty free music (where a single fee is paid rather than an ongoing one) and sometimes you can find tracks that are “inspired” by famous ones… Or we can negotiate the rights to the instrumental versions of the tracks, which we did in the above case but were unfortunately still over-budget. Another option, if the song has been covered by another artist, is to find a lesser-known version as it’s sometimes cheaper.

The moral of this story is that famous music is most likely copyrighted and that you can’t use it without permission, which is often expensive. For the right campaign a famous track will make it far more memorable (Think Morrisons and Take That’s Shine, or Cadburys and Phil Collin’s In The Air Tonight) but there are often more affordable options out there.

So next time you see a video online using a famous track, even if it’s in the background, there’s a chance that it’s breaking copyright law. Record labels and video sites like YouTube and Vimeo are getting clever about spotting copyrighted music and it’s essential to have the correct permissions so your video doesn’t get taken down.

Using copyrighted work without permission is a crime, and unfortunately in the case of music that permission is often very expensive, if it is granted at all.

Got any questions? Get in touch and we’d be glad to help!

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