Rights to music/using on documentary question

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    • #39828

      For those of you who have made docs, or movies that have use popular music, can you help?

      If I wanted to use a beatles song for my documentary (across the universe), how do I ask/apply? It’s not for release. It’s an indy low/no budget.

      Where do I find info?


    • #171828

      Copyright laws are so complex, and there are so many little loopholes through fair use that this is a really touchy matter. I would suggest that you talk to a lawyer before taking any advice on this site, including my own.

      Personally, I avoid popular music in my public releases (a public release is anything that won’t be seen by only family & friends, i.e. any film you might want to promote). The first problem is getting the copyright owners to even speak to you. In their eyes, you’re small potatoes, and the only reason they would ever really want to speak to you would be after the fact, when they sue you to send a message to the rest of the world. Believe me, I’ve tried getting the time of day from BMI and the other music agencies. They really do treat small time producers like dirt.

      If you do happen to get someone to agree to take your money, the next challenge is paying the ridiculous rates. ASCAP has a minimum rate of $288 per license. What that means is that if your prodution cost you $100 to put together, and you only showed it to one person, you’d still have to pay ASCAP their $300. On top of that, there are sync licenses you have to think of, etc, etc… In the end, that one single song could cost you $1000 or more, even if you don’t plan on taking this thing all the way to Sundance.

      Now, the law does allow use of copyrighted material under fair use, but the fair use laws are so gray and vague, if someone ever decided to push the case to court, it would ultimately come down to who had the better lawyer. The recording industry always has the better lawyer.

      Honestly, the best bet is to either make your own music, or buy royalty-free music. Both of these will cost you something up front, but they’re probably a lot cheaper than getting a music license from big music. And the best part i that then, you won’t have to worry about the recording industry holding your production hostage if you exceed the original limits of your license and they decide to cancel it.

      Of course, we all know that Michael Jackson owns the rights to the Beatles’ music now. I’d bet that if you could come up with, say, $50 and a busload of 4th graders for a picnic at Neverland, ole M.J. would probably let you use all their songs in your video. X-D

    • #171829

      On a Roll Wrote:

      Honestly, the best bet is to either make your own music, or buy royalty-free music.

      I agree with On a Roll. Do your own music or purchase some royalty free music. There are some sights that use CR music and may get by, but it’s not worth it if a suit ever comes your way.

      Unless you get permission I would not use CR music.

      To add to this make sure you use your own photos too. Unless you have permission or have purchased royalty free.

      I heard guy on the radio once state that he had a photo posted on his website that he was unaware that it was a copyright infringement. Well some weeks later he received a $3000 bill from "gettyimages" stating he was breaking copyright laws using their photo.

      Ouch! Better to be safe than sorry.

    • #171830

      I should also point out that while there are a lot of public domain songs out there that work well on videos (especially classical music), the symphonies that compose these pieces still hold copyrights on their individual performances. I just point that out because in the wedding videography business, I hear a lot of people saying that using classical music is free, when really, it isn’t. You still need the rights to use it, though often, the individual symphony orchestras that play the work will give you that right for a very reasonable rate. I was a friend with the lead conductor at a very popular symphony, and was fortunate enough to get a written permission to use any of their works on my productions, so long as I give them their due credit. It didn’t cost me a dime, which again is why who you you know can also be important.

    • #171831

      What if someone sings a song accapella, or even plays a little on the piano? Are these infrindgements?

      Thanks for the help


    • #171832

      I agree with what has been said. I, too, tried to get permission to use the record album "Air Power" for an airshow movie. Sony wanted $200 just to file the request. I ended up using royalty free music from Digital Juice.

      This entire issue is like driving down the highway. Speed limit is 55. Some of us may drive 56 or 57. Cops won’t bother you. But if you drive real fast, they can’t ignore you and you get a ticket. Copyright is the same. If you video tape a relative’s wedding, chances are, you can get away with using commericial music. It’s not legal but maybe the worst you get is an order to stop. But if you place the wedding movie on public access channel, or Youtube, etc., then the copyright police might decide to pull you over.

      You might get away with using a small sample of a song but it depends on how its going to be used. If its used in an educational video – for a class project, probably no problem. You use a small clip of music that stands out and is essential to your "commercial" video, then you’re asking for trouble.

    • #171833


      usually a vocal only or instrumental only version of the song is still considered infringement, but again, copyright laws have piles of loopholes. If you were writing a parody of a song (like what weird Al does) that is acceptable. If you only use a very small part of the song, or if the song just happens to drift into your background, that’s usually fine too. Some courts have ruled that significant changes constitute a new work, and are no longer bound to the original, so if you rewrite a few chords and change words, you should be okay.

      But using the song, as it was written and/or performed is against the rules, and sadly, the record industry isn’t bright enough to see the rewards to be had in inexpensive licensing everyone could afford. I can think of about 25 people who I know who would pay, say, $25 to use a pop song legally in their material. I can’t name one person who can afford to fork over $2,500 for the same song

    • #171834

      Yes, copyright law is complex when it comes to video.

      If you’re not careful major artists can come at you for using music in the background:

      Remember the Youtube home movie of a baby dancing while Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy" played in the background? Prince went on a rampage and took it a step further finding every video containing his songs and filing lawsuits.

      We started a live call in Podcast to talk about this very subject – where you get the chance to speak with a practicing entertainment attorney who is ready to answer your questions FREE. If you’re interested in keeping it legal or have a question about law and video, drop by the Law & Video Podcast

    • #171835

      DV Show has a great resource there, I highly suggest you check it out.

      Though DV, yu have to keep in mind that Prince is insane. I mean really, the guy’s out there. I don’t even want to know what was going through his head when he saw that baby going crazy to his music. 😯

      Every artist is different, and while some artists go off the deep end, other’s don’t even care. For his Masters Degree Thesis, a friend of mine built an automatic lighting control rig that could time and sync a full professional light show to the 10,000th of a second. He wrote to a popular electronica band asking what he would need to do to use their music in a public performance to demonstrate his device, and they not only gave him their written consent, but they also sent him a bunch of free stuff.

      Like I said, it’s such a weird part of the law, that it really is best to consult legal expertise if you can.

    • #171836


      Attended a workshop (free) at American University in DC last week put on by filmmaker Kelly Baker (Angry Filmmaker Inc.).

      On the subject, his advice is make friends with local musicians. Give them the set list for your soundtrack (i.e., the familiar songs). Dont have them do cover versions, but have them improvise songs in the style of the familiar songs. This is the widely used practice of generators of buy-out music, the filmmakers friend.

      He related some instances where he has acquired rights for well known songs. It cost him $6000 for a character in one of his feature length films to whistle a few bars of the song People as made famous by Barbra Streisand way back when. (I’m second guessing myself here; doing this from memory; didn’t take notes; thought he said $60,000 but that can’t be right, can it !!!???!!! I mean gosh B.S. is not the Rolling Stones. Anyway, lotsa money.)

      Kelly has been in charge of sound design for 6 Gus Van Zandt films. He is a funny guy. He said the most frightening call he ever received was from the Academy asking if he would be interested in being nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Design for the film, Good Will Hunting. He said that was horrible because he didnt want to be pigeonholed as an A-List Hollywood Sound Design Hack.

      He made a large income as the sound designer for the much honored and profitable Good Will Hunting. He decided to roll the dice and not pay taxes on this income. He invested the entirety of this windfall into his own independent feature length production, which cost $2 million to make. He knew the film was really good and that a decent theatrical distribution deal was inevitable, which would enable him to pay his taxes and then some. Didnt happen. Potential distributors said the film was great but declined to distribute because the film didnt have a star. He became really good friends with the IRS for 7 years and eventually sold his house in Portland Oregon to pay his taxes. Some might call what he did crazy; spouses might call it a divorce; filmmakers might call it dedication.

      He seems happy not owning a house. He spends 6 months of the year traveling in the US and Europe selling his DVDs out of his trunk. He also sells off of his website and on Amazon (he gets 40% of selling price); he strongly preached against signing up with any DVD distributor who wants exclusive rights. Another interesting tidbit is that he has two best selling shorts, a total of 10 minutes of screen time, one on fatherhood, one that relates the experience of several people whove had their car stolen, and over a period of 14 years or so these have made him about $200,000, primarily through TV rights.

      REGARDS TOM 8)

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