Copyright – Music for your Film

When you are considering the music that you would like to include on the soundtrack to your student film, you first need to decide how widely you would like your film to be viewed.

According to APRA AMCOS, Australian copyright law allows students to “use music in films for educational purposes, such as multi-media courses and also for use at school events.” This means that students can use any music they would like to in their films, as long as the film is only going to be viewed at school and at home.

If you choose to use to do this, the copyright license that you are using states that you need to include the following in your credits:

This recording has been made under a licence from APRA|AMCOS and ARIA for educational purposes only. 

(i) [the title of the musical work];

(ii) [the name of the composer and arranger of the musical work];

(iii) [if the recording contains an ARIA Sound Recording, the artist/group name and the record company label].

However, if you are wanting to publish or screen your film anywhere other than at school and at home, such as uploading it to YouTube or entering it in a film festival (including a festival at your school if there are cash prizes), then you may only use music that you have the rights to use.

To obtain the rights to use music in your film, you have four options:

1) You can ask someone to create original music for your film. This music must be original, it can’t be them recording a cover of someone else’s song.

2) You can find royalty-free music that is available for you to use under a Creative Commons licence. This means that the creators of the music allow anyone to use it in their films. Creative Commons Australia have a fact sheet about the information you should include in your credits when using a royalty-free song in this way.

For a list of websites filled with royalty-free music that you can download, click here.

3) You can purchase a score or a soundtrack from an online store such as Triune or MusicBed. Some of these are fairly cheap. At Jamendo, for example, if you find a piece of music that you would like to use, the cost of a personal license to use the music is US$4.99.

4) You can contact an artist to ask for their permission to use their music in your film. If you are thinking of doing this, it is worth starting early when you are contacting musicians, so that you give them some time to reply to you. Of course, it is more likely that you will receive permission to use an artist’s music if they are a small, potentially independent artist, rather than someone who is internationally famous.

What steps should you take if you are wanting to seek permission to use an artist’s music?

APRAAMCOS say that “the first step to seeking permission is locating the copyright owner and we can assist in this process. If the student submits a Research Form to us, we can provide contact details for the relevant person and the student will need to approach them directly to request permission.”

This, then, is the place to start, and you can expect them to potentially reply with either one or  two people/organisations who you will need to obtain copyright approval from. You will need to obtain copyright approval from whoever owns the copyright to “the musical work (the music and lyrics), and also gain approval from whoever owns the copyright to “the sound recording (the subject matter housing that musical work”.

Once APRAAMCOS have told you who owns the copyright to the music you would like to use, you need to make contact with the copyright owners to seek approval to use the music in your film. The Australian Copyright Council point out that “It’s always best to get permission – or any change or clarification to permission – in writing”, so the best approach is to email the copyright owners.

An example as to how you might approach this email can be downloaded here: Copyright Email Template.

Remember, you should never expect that a copyright owner will approve your use of their music, and so you should start approaching copyright owners early in your pre-production process.

REMEMBER: If you don’t receive permission for the music you would like to use, you can still use it when you are submitting your piece for assessment. You can then replace this music with some royalty-free music for a second version of your film, that you can show in places other than school and home.