Using Copyrighted Music and Media in Your Podcast

This is my final article on narrative podcast learning. I will be outlining the rules around use of music, sound effects, and media clips in your podcast. Maneuvering copyrighted material can be important as you choose the sounds and clips you want to include in your production, since you don’t want to open yourself up to potential litigation.

Dangerous misconceptions

I’ll start by debunking some common myths around the use of copyrighted materials.

Myth #1: The 30-second rule

A common misconception around copyrighted music is that it’s OK to use it as long as you use 30 seconds or less. Unfortunately, this is not true. It doesn’t matter if you use one second or an entire song, if you have not secured the rights to use a piece of copyrighted media, you are not allowed to use it in any form.

Myth #2: The credit rule

This myth states that it’s OK to use copyrighted materials as long as you provide appropriate attribution to the original artist. Alas, this myth is also false. Providing credit to the copyright holder does not give you permission to use their work without permission or compensation.

Myth #3: The nonprofit rule

Another popular myth is that as long as your podcast isn’t available to the general public, and doesn’t make you any money, then you are free to use whatever media you wish. This is also not true. Whether your podcast turns a profit or not has no bearing on your legal right to use copyrighted music without obtaining permission.

Myth #4: The fair-use rule

Fair use is the legal principle that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for the purpose of commentary and criticism. While this is true, it does not apply to freely using copyrighted material in your podcast in any way you wish. You can, for instance, discuss a copyrighted work on your podcast (such as a movie or book), but fair use does not give you the right to actually play clips of material or music without permission.

How to correctly use copyrighted material

To make a long story short, there is no loophole to get around the use of copyrighted media without purchasing the rights to the use the work or obtaining permission from the copyright holder. If you do not have express permission to access and use a person’s copyrighted works, you cannot include them in your podcast without risking legal action.

So you may now be wondering, “Well then, how can I use music and sound effects in my podcast?” Luckily, there are a number of ways you can obtain access to media for use in your production, both paid and free.

Licensing music and audio

Your first option is to license the rights to a piece of music or sound. Basically, licensing requires you to purchase the permission to use a piece of copyrighted material. Unless your budget is astronomical, you probably won’t be able to purchase a license for something like a Beatles song, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get access to music. There are a number of stock music and sound effects websites that allow you to purchase copyrighted materials. Depending on the site, you may be able to purchase a subscription to a catalog of files, or you may have to purchase each individual asset separately. You can simply search the internet for the stock audio site that best fits your individual needs. One of the benefits of purchasing the rights to a work is that the license likely does not require attribution of the media.

Creative Commons materials

Creative Commons is an open licensing standard that allows creators of content to share their work under clear and transparent terms. This means that artists are able to make their work available at no cost to use, so long as you follow the rules set by the artist. Assets under creative commons will usually break down how you can and can’t use the work (i.e. free to use, not-for-profit only, requires attribution). As long as you follow the rules set forth in the creative commons license, you are free to use this type of music and media.

Government assets and the public domain

You are also allowed to use any media that has been created by a federal US government agency or employee, as part of their official duties. Though it’s unlikely this will give you much access to music, it does mean that audio clips of things such as political speeches or federal court cases is allowable without a license.

Finally, you may use any work that is in the public domain without the need to obtain permission from the original author or copyright owner. A work is in the public domain if the copyright has expired or if the artist has dedicated their work to the public domain. Before using any media you believe to be in the public domain, make sure to do your due diligence in confirming this is the case.

The best advice you will ever receive concerning the use of copyrighted material

The use of copyrighted media can be a slippery slope, and the best advice is to purchase a license from a stock audio website. This will ensure you that any audio files you use in your podcast will be legally obtained. If you are not sure if you have the rights to use a piece of media, then don’t use it. It’s not worth taking the risk of finding yourself in the middle of a lawsuit.

That wraps up this series on narrative podcasting. I hope it has inspired you to give podcasting a shot as your next training modality. Narrative podcasts are fun to make, resonate strongly with learners, increase information retention, and are cheap and easy to produce. There’s really no reason not to use them, so go out and create some great stories!

Editor’s note

At DevLearn 2018, Barbara Waxer, a copyright and media educator, will present Copyright? Relax! Devour Free and Creative Commons Media.

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