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Let’s make it clear…Music licensing tutorial for filmmakers and videographers- when, what, whom, for how much?

A post by Eastaste Eastaste on May 3, 2016

We are starting a new tutorial series about music licensing, to clarify, when, from where, for how much can you use music in your film, advertisement, home video or any other type of video.

In the first part, you can learn about the situations in which you need to license music, and what are the exceptions.


Part 1.


When? In what situations do you need to clear music, i.e. use licensed music in your movie?


A band is playing a song in live in a wedding scene. Do they need permission from anyone?



The protagonist is whistling a famous song in the film. Do they need to ask permission from the right holder?



Every music has at least one owner, from who you need to obtain the rights and permission, if you would like to use, i.e. license that music in any kind of video.

Regardless, of whether it’s spontaneous, or planned live performance, background music, or a specific song that you add to the film during the post production. This applies even if the radio plays a music or someone is whistling a song.




Music licensing or clearance is the licensed use of a copyrighted music. Since the deal is not about buying the song itself but the right to use the song, we call it licensing, and you have to pay a license fee.

The generic name of the whole operation is synchronization, which comes from the synchronization of picture and audio. In English it’s common to use the expressions: sync deal, sync agency, etc.

Are you a film school student and would like to use a Radiohead song in your shortfilm without permission? You can try, but there is a good chance that Youtube will block it, and no TV or cinema is going to play it, unless they take the risk.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to decide on any license request, where audio/visual projects are involved, and charge for usage. The amount of this depends on the extent of the use, how well known the song is, the number of copyright owners, standard market prices and many others, even wether the owners like to project or not.




Public domain


Public domain is an exception, which includes the majority of pre-20th-century classical music and some traditional folk music.

In reality however it is complicated to define what ‘public domain’ status really means, because a song in America can be public domain, while still be under copyright protection in another country.

It is also important to note, that while the composition of a song itself can be public domain, but the recording or of it isn’t necessarily.

(Bugs Bunny, 1941)


Fair use


Fair use is another exception, which is the use of copyrighted material for purposes such as parody, criticism, reporting or research without asking permission from the right holder. Fair use is a very broad area of copyright. Ultimately on a jury can decide if a certain usage falls under fair use or not. Precedents and guidelines exist, but they are different in almost every country. In the EU there are community guidelines, and every country has it’s own interpretation.



The exception proves the rule..


If you want to play it safe, you should assume that every time you make a video and use music in it, you will need the permission from the right holders of the music. Whether it is advertisement, promotional material, fictional film or home video. It is also true for Youtube, but we’ll write more about this later.

The fact is that often it is not that expensive to legally use a song for example in a film, as it may seem first. However it is important to start the process in time, because sometimes it is not easy to find all the right owners, and convince them to say yes to our request, or find an alternative in case it’s needed.

In most cases there is a way, to get the music for filmfestivals, presentations for a lower price, than it would cost in case of a commercial release.

In the next blogpost we are going to write about, what licensing means exactly, whom, what kind of licenses, permissions you need to obtain.

If you are interested in more information, please subscribe to our newsletter, and if you are searching for music for a project, check out our catalogue, which contains brand new music from Eastern Europe, but we also collected some of our favourite tracks, all of them can be licensed! :)

Staff picks
Magic Of The Moment by The Maneken
Magic Of The MomentThe ManekenUkraine3:42
LEGO by Gayana
Island of Promise feat Hegyi Dori by Belau
Island of Promise feat Hegyi DoriBelauHungary3:23
TIME by Onuka
Country not setno length
Before The Eyes Are Opened by Tenfold Rabbit
Before The Eyes Are OpenedTenfold RabbitEstonia4:06

You can find more themed playlists on our site, and if you are not sure which track to choose, write to net@eastaste.net and we help you to find the perfect one!

Author: Renato Horvath