PLEASE PLEASE ME: Don’t add your favourite pop track to the video you’ve just made


Your video is made, it looks great and you think it would look even better if I can just add my favourite pop track from right here in my itunes library.

It’s okay, the argument goes, I paid to download that track. It;s mine. Besides, Madonna will never know. And if she did she’d be all over my adoption video that now features all-time favourite club anthem ‘Vogue’, right?

Actually, no.

Disclaimer: this post doesn’t profess to be formal legal advice. Engage the services of counsel for that but I would point you towards some resources to give you a basic understanding of copyright law when making a video with your smartphone.

But you do need to know the basics if you are creating video content.

Copyright: the basics

Copyright is a legal protection given to the author of a piece of artwork whether that be a painting, play, picture, song or whatever. This basic guide from the NUJ is a good starting point. The creator creates the work and if you want to use it you need a licence. By paying for that Madonna track you have a license to play it yourself. You don’t have a licence to include it in a cigaratte commercial. Or your video.

The UK government have a handy guide to music copyright.

Copyright: the risks

According to advice, possesses in the course of a business with a view to committing any at infringing the rights conferred would attract a maximum three month prison sentence or a £5,000 fine. In other words, if you use someone else’s music you risk prison or a fine.

But relax. For the most part, its the money that rights holders are particularly keen on not seeing you doing a ten-stretch in Sing-Sing.

If they think you don’t have money, the place where you uploaded the music – such as YouTube or Twitter – will get a take down notice. This means the URL you are driving people to won’t be showing your finely-crafted video but a message telling people you don’t know the law.


If they think you have money, you’ll get a takedown notice and a request for cash.

The part of local government I worked in felt short of money. The bottom line still said it was a £350 million a year operation.

Fair dealing

There are defences to breach of copyright that you can deploy which you can see here. The most common I get asked about is ‘fair dealing’. In reality, this won’t work if you are using the music on a video. This is for things like private research, a critical review of something like a new play or a new film or news coverage.

So, nice try. But no.

Places to get Royalty-Free music

There are plenty of places you can get music for your film. But check the licence. The copyright holder may want you to credit their work or website. That’s really easy. Add them in a short credit at the end of the film. Here is a list of 12 places you can find Royalty-free music.

Picture credit: Circuito Fora / Flickr

You can find out about the Essential Video Skills for Comms workshops I deliver right here. Shout if I can help.

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