Please explain to me music copyright in Wedding Videos

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    • #47507


      I have been a Wedding Photographer for 5 years and have decided to venture into video and give it a try. I have done a lot of research and many videographers use hit songs and so on on the portfolio montages on their websites and on the videos they give to the clients.

      Can somebody explain to me the copyright issues. As in can I get in trouble if I use current hit songs for example. Do you know of somebody who has actually gotten into trouble? I can’t imagine that it is legal since I will be making money off the product. Is there a loophole or something?

      Also how about (for example) when you videotape people dancing to Party Rock and the song is clearly heard in the background…

      Sorry if those questions are kinda broad but I thought this is the right place to ask.

      Thanks for any info you can give me.

      P.S. oops i posted in the wrong section but have no idea how to delete the post…

    • #195802


      I moved your thread into the proper spot. No worries. Okay, long story short; whether in a wedding vid or whatever, to use music of any type you do not personally own the rights to (i.e. hold copyright), it has to be royalty-free or you must have permission from the rights holder (who owns the copyright) in order to use it.

      If you do not have rights to the music (which most likely you don’t), there is a ‘Fair Use’ clause but it’s mainly for educational products or use in parodies. However, it’s really loose and if you’re using the music commercially you will not fall under the clause’s protection. Penalties for copyright infringement are stiff to ruinous! Best things to do are; work out deals with local musicians for original work, use royalty-free and or contracted music to cover your requirements. If the couple is adamant about using a mainstream song without getting permission to do so tell them what it will cost to get permission (starting prices are around $15k and higher depending on the artist.)

      However, there is quite a bit of really good music of the type that won’t get you in trouble to choose from. Same rules apply for artwork and photographs too….

    • #195803

       Is it the performer’s work that’s copyrighted or the written music by the performer?  What if I have the sheet music and get a young group looking for exposure to do the music?

    • #195804

      Todd: I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

      Lets start with what you can find at

      “The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number
      of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107
      of the copyright law.

      Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the
      reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as
      criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
      Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining
      whether or not a particular use is fair:

        1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such
          use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
        2. The nature of the copyrighted work
        3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
        4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

      The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and
      not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or
      notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the
      source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining

      So you’re in a very gray area, which hinges to some extent of item #3 above. The way this was explained to me several years ago in a seminar on legal issues in video production is that if the music is incidental — that is, if you’re taping the first dance and the copyright protect music is playing in the background — it probably falls under “fair use” if you include this in your wedding video.

      However, if you take the music from the first dance and use it throughout the video — that is, if you remove it from the context of the dance and apply it elsewhere — then you’ve exited the realm of fair use and are encroaching on copyright abuse.

      Before the advent of the internet it wasn’t critical. The bride brought you CDs she had bought, you added music from them to the edit and gave the bride a VHS copy of the finished tape. She showed it to a few friends and relatives and its distribution ended there. Once material began to be delivered digitally and could be put onto You Tube, Vimo and Facebook, however, violation of copyright became a very public matter, capable of getting the violator into lots of trouble.

      Not long ago it was reported in several of the trade journals that a wedding videographer had been sued by a copyright holder over the use of music; the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum “in the mid-five figure range.”

      So bottom line: using anything other than buyout music, or music generated locally for which you have written authorization, is a very bad idea unless it’s incidental music that’s used sparingly.


    • #195805

      Thanks for the info. It’s pretty much what I thought. So people who use copyrighted music pretty much just count on the fact that the chance they will be sued is microscopic…

      By the way is there some sort of online resource that pro’s use for free music or something like that?

    • #195806

      The risk of being sued for a copyright violation has driven more than a few people out of the wedding video business. While lawsuits are uncommon, the risks of them can be catastrophic, especially if you run your business as a sole proprietorship (your business and personal assets are intertwined.)

      I think the legal issue here that opens producers up to a lawsuit is that you’re using someone else’s copyrighted works to make money for yourself.

      I once wanted to use a particular song in a low budget movie I shot… until I found out how much it would have cost. That $15,000 number is right in the ballpark for the obscure song by an obscure artist I was interested in.

      Now, I offer local bands deals on music videos in exchange for the right to use their original music with aclear copyright. (Sometimes producers own a piece of the work so even the artists themselves can’t sign it off to you.)

      Something else to consider is that during the ceremony you may have either a musician or a CD playing. The musician, having been hired by the happy couple, is prividing the performance for them and you might be OK with that. A CD on the other hand, even if the music is in the public domain, is copyrighted because that particular performance of the work is owned by themusician/copyright owners.I’m not a lawyer so don’t take this as gospel.

      One thing I feel confident about suggesting is that you look for appropriate production music that you can affordably purchase the copyright to use. Although it’s not what you’ll hear on the radio, you won’t loose you shirt, your camera or your house over it.

      The BEST answer here is to consult an attorney knowledgable in copyright and business law.

      But people don’t always follow the best advice and there really aretons of wedding videogrophers that do put unlicensed music on their wedding videos. I don’t know howa videographercould make a great wedding video at an affordable price without butting heads with the copyright issue.

      If you want to roll the dice, take a chance and accept the risks that yours will be one of the many tens of thousands of wedding videos that don’t get sued, it’s up to you. The odds are probably in your favor, but thedamages if you get called on it could be pretty devistating, especiallyfor a small video producer.

      So, do people do it? Yes, all the time. Am I telling you to do it? No. That’s your call.

    • #195807

      “By the way is there some sort of online resource that pro’s use for free music or something like that?”

      Definitely! Music Bakery and Music Two Hues both supply very usable buyout music, including discs of “wedding music,” i.e., music that you’ve heard before. Additionally, I believe WEVA has made arrangements with at least one agency for the licensing of well known songs for a modest fee and I believe WeDJ has as well. A bit of digging on line should turn up specifics, as will contacting WEVA.

      As Joseph says, lots of wedding videographers ignore copyright issues altogether. And as we both suggest, they do so at their peril, particularly in this day of social media and the internet.

      Good luck,


    • #195808


      Even the sheet music performed by someone else is covered by Copyright. When the song is put into permanent form (written, tape, record, CD, etc.) It was still written by someone else and you don’t have permission to use it commercially.

    • #195809

      Also be careful using “public domain” music. Beethoven’s music may be in the public domain but the CD put out by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is copyright protected and, quite possibly the transcription from which the orchestra is playing is protected as well.

      It gets really complicated, very quickly. Buyout music is still the safest way to go for most of us who want to stay within the law.


    • #195810

       Perhaps this will provide you with a clear picture of this issue…

    • #195811

      This may be slightly off-topic, but still relevant in the sense of possible litigation as result of the music contained in your wedding video.

      A word of advice regarding live musicians at weddings – include a clause in your contract with the bride and groom that requires them to obtain a signed release from any live musicians that may be performing at their wedding, allowing any aspect of their performance to be included on the wedding video at no extra cost. Then, ensure that you provide them with a well-composed form for that purpose. This is a simple procedure and avoids any potential hassles from the hired talent after the fact.

      Interpretation may vary but, essentially, you are producing a product for which you are receiving remuneration. Any musicians that you record may have a claim for a part of that remuneration, as you did not negotiate a fee with them for inclusion of their performance on your finished production. The argument is that they were hired by the bride and groom for a live performance and this is a recorded performance from which you are benefitting.

      The odds of this happening are even less than the odds of getting sued for including the latest pop tune on your video, but why risk it when it can easily be avoided.

    • #195812

      Wayne – True – but, all a live band that typically plays for weddings and events needs is news of them suing the videographer at the event they performed at. Reviews on wedding sites hold a lot of weight. In my eyes, many brides would not consider that performing group anymore in fear it might interfere with their video.

    • #195813

       Here’s another monkey wrench – I use Smartsound’s Sonicfire Pro and have a pretty extensive library.  This is royalty free music that I should be able to do pretty much as I please with.  Unfortunately, I have been getting nastigrams from YouTube stating “Your video “Wedding Portfolio – G”, may have content that is owned or licensed by BFM Digital”  or “Your video “Wedding Ceremony example.mp4″, may have content that is owned or licensed by UMG, but its still available on YouTube! In some cases, ads may appear next to it.”  I’m working with Smartsound and trying to contact Steve Corn of BFM to resolve these issues.  I thought I had it all straightened out before on another claim BFM made.  The CEO of SmartSound and Steve Corn spoke and Mr. Corn was supposed to have created  some sort of web crawler “exception”.

      So, in regards to your question:  The industry is still trying to sort things out.  My perception is that the pendulum of enforcement is swinging too far.  Who knows, it could be the big boys are trying to squash the small-time videographer…

    • #212883

      I think that securing copyrighting music went too far. So how about music artist paying me for promoting his song in a beautiful wedding video? Then I will pay him back for his music and we are fifty fifty. πŸ™‚

    • #212887

      Country is important to, laws are similar but not identical. In general, there are two main rights involved, with perhaps a third in there tucked away. The composer of the music has rights. The people who perform it in the recording have rights in their work (often handled by their record company, if signed). These are the main two, and if you watch TV adverts, you’ll often find well known music that has been re-recorded for the ad. That way, the composer’s rights are the only one that matters. If your then re-record the music yourself, you can use it if the composer has been dead 70 years. No payment. If you get musicians to record it, then you buy out their rights – and pay them a fee. Established practice, been happening for years. The third kind of copyright is when you dub music from source to something new – that’s also something that needs clearance. DJ’s in the UK should now have a license to layout music copied from on-line or CD to their hard drive.

      Watch out for the websites that say copyright free. This doesn’t not mean the music is free, just licensable. A few people produce nice music with no strings and are happy with perhaps a credit or paypal donation.

      What is certain is that it is complicated. It’s easy to try hard and still fail. There are also traps – when a song is written by two people, often the music composer is well known and the lyricist not so – you Google the title and discover it was created a long time ago and the composer has been dead 71 years – great! You use it and then discover the lyricist is still alive, and you have made 20/200/2000 DVDs illegally. It happens. I do quite a bit of music, and have been using romantic piano music in my projects when there is no money for clearance. I did originally intend to use MIDI files (there are some excellent classical ones) BUT again, the person who produced the files owns the copyright, so I’ve been producing some classical piano recordings recently, and the pianist is happy to play a few popular pieces for me, and we just forget it – call it a favour owed.

      It’s not really complicated – because you just need the rights. The complicated bit is simply finding who owns them and clearing them. Hence why each country usually has an agency or two who can do it for you.

    • #212951

      This issue has been beat around here before..Since I am also a song writer as well, I have found a website where artist will let me use any of his music as long as I credit him and his website. As for whats playing in background I can’t help that…If its public its public. Most venues pay a fee either ASCAP or BMI to play copyrighted music so artist is getting paid..well at least their organization is getting paid…

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