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How To Get Permission to Use a Song in a Film or Video – Entertainment Law Asked & Answered

How To Get Permission to Use a Song in a Film or Video – Entertainment Law Asked & Answered

Music Rights – How do you get permission to use a song in your video or film?

Hi, I’m Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer common entertainment law questions, so you can take your entertainment industry career and business, or just your hobby, to the next level.

So, in a previous Asked and Answered session, I talked about fans making cover videos and posting them on Youtube and Facebook.

And I explained that, when you include a musical composition (even your own recording of the song) in a video or film, you need special permission, called a Synchronization or Sync License from the owners of the copyright in that song.

So here’s how you get that license.

It’s actually pretty simple, conceptually.

You find out who owns the copyright,

You submit a request

You wait for an approval, called a “quote”

You agree to pay the required license fee in a written contract prepared by the copyright owner

And you’re set.

In practice, however this is a bit more complicated.
That’s because lots of songs are written by multiple songwriters. Collaborators. And, each of those songwriters might be represented by a different publishing company. And you need permission from all of them.

So, you’ve got to track down all those publishers so you can ask.
Now, a good place to start this is by looking at the liner notes for a recording of the song you’re using. Oh, wait, this is the 21st century, and you’re listening to an mp3 that doesn’t have liner notes, or on a streaming service… Again no liner notes.

So, first check out the source where you got the music in question, and see if it lists the names of the songwriters and their publishers. Then google those companies. OR, head over to ASCAP.com and BMI.com, and search their repertoires.

Then, contact each publisher, and request the permission for the use you have in mind.

Then you wait for the quote, and then the license agreement…. Which you have to read, and understand, and comply with its terms…

And that’s how you clear music rights.

More work than you thought, huh?

This is why TV shows and Film Production Companies have staffers who do this stuff for them. Most shows and films have a music supervisor who helps find the music, and identifies the owners, and then a lawyer or paralegal or other executive will handle the actual licensing.

For a film project, or a TV show, that makes sense, But for your typical YouTube or Facebook video… It’s probably overkill. Maybe you’d be better off using some original music you wrote, or a track from a royalty-free source.

That’s it for this session of Asked and Answered. Submit your entertainment law questions at

See you next time.

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46 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Peter Scott -

    Does this apply to parody videos? If you are parodying a music video is it enough to parody the visual aspects of the video and use the original audio, or must you also make a transformative change to the audio for it to be safe?

  • Sherree Wells -

    Question: Our church recently had a concert given by members of the church. I videoed each performance, and now want to upload to YouTube. I am not a monetizer, I just want to share my concert videos with my friends. I have a song in question, sung by one of our members… Everything I Do (I Do For You) written by Bryan Adams. Will I get a copyright strike from You Tube if I share that video?

  • Ashira Dawn -

    Hello and thanks for your very informative videos! Not sure where you’re based but I have some specific questions that I need answers to before I can pursue my channel. Do you take calls or meetings? For a fee of course..

  • LilKing420s -

    If copyright is so damned important, why isn't the process to request the ability to use a licensed work made super simple? Wouldn't that promote increased respect for copyright as a whole? The current structure of copyright seems to be counter-productive to itself. Not to mention the ungodly court costs I assume are involved in suing someone for infringement!

  • Praise Worship -

    Please comment on the following video which says since 2017, YouTube has an agreement with music publishers so that a musician does not have to seek a synch licence in advance. Instead, YouTube detects cover songs and automatically pays a share of ad revenue to the publishers. And YouTube asks if it is a cover song so that you get a share of the ad revenue, too. Watch "How to Post COVER SONGS on YouTube LEGALLY – Peter Hollens" on YouTube.

  • Doge The dog -

    I uploaded a video that was a ending of a movie I rented from redbox before it came out on dvd and it’s the most popular in my channel but it has been 2 years and it hasn’t been claimed yet is it because the quality is bad?

    Another question is should I get rid of the video?

  • Lunaplayz games -

    I got copyrighted by the person who made a song called "Welcome Home" and they told me to purchase the song and I was wondering instead of purchasing the song, I can use this app called Smule where there are songs and what if I use the song '"Welcome Home" from Smule. Would I still get copyrighted?

  • AlphaAbsol -

    So, I make film reviews on YouTube and I wanted to make an intro using the new car unlocked theme from Burnout 3, Do I go directly to the game publisher? because the song was written specifically for the game.

  • Cascade HyDRO -

    I want to make a fan made music video for one of the new twenty one pilots songs called neon Gravestones. The band is labeled with Fueled by Ramen. So would I call them or Warner bros or who to try and get permission. I don’t wanna make money off of it just make a video for it.

  • Lucid Vision -

    Personally I always thought it was ridiculous to make a big deal out of using songs for your videos, I mean if you're getting paid by YouTube for using the content that's a different story but I shouldn't have to go through so much trouble just to use a song for a good video. That's ridiculous but thanks for the information dude, you've been extremely helpful!

  • Roshan 10 -

    Some times if I contact any music owners for the permission they don't even reply for my message. So in that situation may I add a notice at the beginning of my video that "the copyright of this music is not owned by me and the real owner of the copyright is xxx" without asking his or her permission to add their own material in my video? I need to know that if I do like this whether it is correct or wrong?

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