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Every podcast uses music in some aspect of the production. Most of us use music in our intro and outro and possibly even in our commercials. The proper use of music is important as getting on the wrong side of copyright laws can land you in hot water fast.
There are some very dangerous misconceptions that are floating around out there. Let's begin by looking at the most common misconceptions.
The 30-second Rule
You will hear many people tell you that it is OK to use copyrighted music as long as you use 30 seconds or less. This is simply not true. It doesn't matter if you use a single second or the entire
The Credit Rule
Another myth often repeated is that it is OK to use copyrighted materials as long as you provide appropriate attribution to the original artist. This is completely and totally untrue. Providing credit to the copyright holder does not give you permission to use their work without permission and/or compensation.
The Non-Profit Rule
Some people think that if your podcast isn't available to the general public and doesn't make you any money, you are free to use whatever media you wish. This is another false statement. Turning a profit or not has no bearing on your legal rights to use copyrighted music without obtaining permission first.
Fair Use Rule
Fair use is a legal principle. It states that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for the purpose of commentary and criticism. This is true, but it does not mean you can freely use copyrighted material in your podcast in any way you wish. You can discuss a copyrighted work on your podcast, but fair use does not give you the right to actually play clips of material or music without getting permission.
No Copyright Notice
This is another common misconception. People believe that if there is no copyright notice, it means you can use the music. This has not been true since March 1, 1989, when the notice was made optional. Before that date, the copyright notice was mandatory and anything published with no copyright notice risked losing copyright protection if not corrected in a short period of time.
Adapting the Music
Many think that if they are adapting the music and changing it a bit that they don't need to worry about violating copyright laws. This is false. Copyright laws give the owners the exclusive rights to control any modifications to their work. if you add a new layer of copyrighted material to an existing work, you need permission.
It is Public Domain
Public domain only refers to lack of copyright protection, but that's not all you need to consider. A work can be protected by other legal theories that survive after a copyright expires.
By way of example, distinctive characters (like Peter Rabbit) can achieve protection under trademark law and function as a logo or source identifier. Additionally, ideas, which are not protected under copyright laws, can be protected under trade secret or contract law. You must get permission before using these materials.
It Was Posted Publicly
It doesn't matter how easy it is for users to upload or download information on the internet, an anonymous posting doesn't change the protection. Anonymous and pseudonymous works are protected from unauthorized copying. You must get
I Can Always Get Permission Later
This is a terrible approach. Later may very well be too late. Copyright owners have the unfettered right not to grant you permission. If what you need is crucial to what you are doing, it is better to ask permission now than find out later you cannot be given permission. Not having permission can result in your work being blocked or the payment of thousands of dollars in copyright damages and attorney fees because you chose to use the material without permission.
The Material is More Than 75 Years Old
Many point to the age of a piece of work and say that gives them the right to use the work. Unpublished and unregistered works created before 1978 may still be protected. When in doubt, check it out.
How to Correctly Use Copyrighted Materials
By this point you are probably realizing that there is no loophole to get around the use of copyrighted media without purchasing the rights to use the work or obtaining permission from the copyright holder. If you do not have their express permission to use their copyrighted works, you cannot include them in your podcast. Do so and you will likely be sued.
At this point I can hear you thinking “How can I use music and sound effects in my podcast?” There are actually several ways to obtain access to media for use in your podcast. Some are free and some are paid.
License Music and Audio
Your first option is to license the rights to the music or sound you want to use. Licensing requires you to purchase the permission to use the copyrighted material. Unless you have a huge budget, you won't be able to purchase a license for something like a Beatles song, but you can still get access to music.
There are a variety of stock music and sound effects sites that allow you to purchase copyrighted materials. You may be able to purchase a subscription to a catalog of files, or you may be able to purchase each individual asset separately. Do a search for stock audio and find the one that best fits your needs.
One method is to go after materials covered by Creative Commons. This is an open licensing standard that allows creators of content to share their work under clear and transparent terms. This means the artists are able to make their work available at no cost to use, so long as you follow the rules the artist sets.
Assets under creative commons will break down how you can and can't use the work. As long as those rules are followed, you are free to use this type of media.
Government Assets and Public Domain
Any media created by a federal US government agency or employee, as part of their official duties, can be used. It is unlikely that you will get much access to music, it does mean that audio clips of things like political speeches or federal court cases can be used without a license.
You can also use any work that is in the public domain. A work is considered public domain if its copyright has expired or the artist has dedicated their work to the public domain. Before you use any music from the public domain, check into the other issues previously mentioned.
Some Sound Advice
Using copyrighted media is a slippery slope, which makes the soundest advice to purchase a license from a stock audio website. This will ensure that any audio files you use in your podcast were obtained legally. If you are not sure if you have the rights to a piece of media, do not use it. It just isn't worth the risk of finding yourself in the middle of a lawsuit.