A part-time occupation of mine for years was teaching media and television production to students. The area of teaching the course that always provided the most significant issues was Copyright and usage rights for the music. With MP3 players, iPods, and streaming services, students could orchestrate an entire soundtrack to their lives.
But the concept of ownership of that music was slippery for them. “Mr.C. I paid for that music when I bought it from iTunes. Why can’t I use it as the soundtrack?” “Because you didn’t buy the music; you purchased a license to a copy of the music. You can play it on your personal equipment. To use that music on your video, you have to have the right to do that.” After a while, the kids grasped the concept. And I introduced them to music in the public domain and fee-for-use music. So much for the kids.
Adults had some similar issues. I had been asked to help out a parent edit a company video. Helping him shoot the video was easy. But, editing took up most of my instruction time. He wanted to create a piece for his company using a popular tune as a background. It’s a standard editing style. You edit to the tempo, transitions, and beats of the music. I asked him if he had rights to the music. He looked at me as though I was unclear about who he was and what his place in the universe was. “The call is already into Disney.”
With the students, I could overrule a wrong call after sweet reason failed. However, I was doing this project as a favor. I couldn’t tell the client to get out of my editing suite. He explained that his company had already called Disney about the rights, and I shouldn’t worry. I smiled, knowing what the results of a request to the Mouse would be. I tried to tell him how hard it would be to get a reply from them and how persistence could be followed by a nasty cease and desist letter. I knew at once where his son had gotten the slight sneer he affected.
His editing progressed, and I gave up on giving guidance. People need to fail on their own at times. The tempo of the edit was snappy and appealing. But as time wore on, there was no response from the Mouse.
The panic was beginning to set in. Finally, I was approached with the problem. The video was only going to be shown at company functions. Would the company be safe in using it without consent? He should ask a media lawyer if he wanted a correct media opinion. I had no interest in making myself vulnerable to suit. But informally, I said things had a nasty way of getting out of control with unforeseen consequences. One individual innocently uploading the video to Youtube could create a cascade of copyright infringement issues. Is there a way out of the problem, he asked?
I thought about it. It’s common to edit to a piece of music. Some editors have tunes they like to use; others edit to music licensed for a video. It’s not uncommon for the ground to wash from underneath you when negotiations fail. You have various choices: re-edit, have custom music written, or find “Sounds Like” music. Sounds Like approaches the tempo and sound of the original but with relatively low-cost fees for use, without infringing on Copyright.
That was that answer here. For a modest fee, the video was completed. I revised my pro bono standards to exclude freebies for friends, and I was happy to return to just teaching students.