Music and sound can be a critical part of the soundscape of any film. If you want to use another person’s music in your film, copyright may apply and you’ll need to obtain permission and copyright clearances before use.

Here is some important information you need to know about music and copyright. This information has been shared with us from APRA-AMCOS, the Australian music-rights organisation.

What is copyright?
Copyright law in Australia is Federal law, established under the Australian Parliament. It protects literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works, and subject matter such as published editions, sound recordings, broadcasts and films.
Who owns the copyright in a piece of music?
The creator of a piece of music owns the copyright. For example, if I write the music for a song, and you write the lyrics, I own the copyright in the music and you own the copyright in the lyrics. If we write a song together, we each own a percentage of the copyright in the music.
Why do I need to worry about copyright?
Copyright ensures that people who make creative content (musical, literary, dramatic or artistic) are able to protect their content. It is a way in which musicians earn money from their music. Without copyright, many musicians would struggle to continue making music.
How do I know if a song is protected under copyright?
All songs are protected by copyright from the moment they are recorded in a material form, either written down or recorded. In Australia, copyright for a musical work exists for 70 years after the death of the creator, and copyright for a musical recording exists for 70 years after the date of release.
If I want to use music created by someone else, how do I find out who to contact to ask for permission?
If you want to use music for a school project, for instance in a short film, your school has a licence to cover this usage. If you wish to screen the film publicly, or enter it in festivals, you will require permission from the copyright owner. While the creator owns the copyright of their work, sometimes they allow a publisher to speak on behalf of them. You can send an email to print@apra.com.au and AAPRA AMCOS can provide details on who exactly to contact with your request.
What information should I include when asking for permission to use a piece of music?
Most importantly you should include the name of the musical work, and the songwriter/composer. Remember, the songwriter will not always be the artist that performs the work. You should also include how much of the song you would like to use, and where the film will be shown.
How long should I expect to wait to receive an answer from them?
The time that a music publisher takes to respond varies, as they may need to contact the songwriter from whom you’re seeking permission, but it’s always best to allow about 6 weeks. It is always good to remember, the artist has chosen to control their rights in this way, and that allowing people to use their music is entirely up to them.
Are the rules different if I want to post my video on YouTube or social media?
The schools licence will not cover certain rights required to post videos online. ‘Synchronisation rights’ will be required to post a video online. Contact mechres@apra.com.au for help with synchronisation licensing. YouTube already have a licence that covers you for the communication of the work, so if you can get permission to ‘synchronise’ the piece of music, then you can post it to YouTube. Posting it anywhere else online, other than on YouTube, will require you to get the communication licence yourself. You can send an email to digital@apra.com.au for help with the communication licence.
If I use my own music, do I need to copyright it?
In Australia, a work becomes automatically protected by copyright once committed to a physical form (notated, recorded etc.). If you are using your own work, you have the right to use it as you wish and to determine how others use your work as well.
Can I record a cover version of a song to avoid copyright?
The licence that your school holds will cover you to use an audio track whether it’s the original version or a cover you’ve recorded yourself. However, if you’re looking to post a video with music online, you’ll need synchronisation rights, as mentioned before. Synchronisation rights involve getting permission from the publisher and the record label. If using a cover version of a song, you’ll only need permission from the publisher and not the record label.
Can I re-mix/mash up songs to avoid copyright?
Your school’s licence won’t cover you to make remixes and mashups. If you’d like to do this, you need to get permission from the record label of each song involved in the mashup. If you need help with contacting record labels, you can contact ARIA at aria.mail@aria.com.au
Can I write my own words to a song, but use the music?
Changing the lyrics of a song is considered to be an ‘arrangement’. Making arrangements is not covered by the schools’ licence and requires you to get permission from the print publisher of the song involved. You can email print@apra.com.au to find out who the print publisher is of the work you’re looking to use.
If I just use a couple seconds of a song, do I need to worry about copyright?
Yes – in most cases, using a section of a song is treated in the same way as using the whole song, and therefore requires permission.
If I have more questions about music copyright, who should I contact?
Email schools@apra.com.au for any questions you have.

Royalty-Free Sources

There is an alternative to using music under copyright, and that’s “Royalty Free” music. It’s music that you can use for free, or for a small fee depending on what you choose. With royalty-free music, you don’t need to ask permission, and you can use it immediately.

We’ve put together some handy links to help you find royalty-free music and sound effects online.