Copyrights Issues

Track Video GlyphThis is such an "inconvenient" matter for a lot of people who are making hobby videos that they want to upload to Youtube, StreetFire, and similar sites. "Inconvenient", because usually the video includes copyrighted music, but it could include other things as well, such as graphics. Sure, these people aren't trying to use this "borrowed" material to make money, and it really isn't a file sharing issue ala LimeWire or Napster. But could it be seen as being more like playing the music in a public performance, like DJ's at bars do? I doubt it. Ask yourself this, if the DJ taped his show and them uploaded it for all to play, is that a public performance? No. The DJ is basically publishing his work, and his work incorporates other people's work. So you ask, what if it isn't uploaded, but just played at home. The record companies have always complained about people making tapes, and now MP3 files, of albums for personal use. Back in the days of vinyl making a tape was the only way you could play the music in your car and I don't know one person who did not do this. The only alternative was AM radio and the rare FM station. I guess either they're not so worried about that these days or can't really do anything about it. But, if you upload your video to a publicly accessible site, you are in effect publishing your video, and their song. That's not personal use.

But wait, aren't you actually supporting the band, helping promote their work? Well, yes, but that doesn't get you around copyright issues. Besides, rarely do the bands own the copyrights to their own songs. It's the suits you are dealing with here.

Let's talk about copyrights. The whole idea behind a copyright is to provide a way to protect the creator of the work, to make it their property, in much the same way that buying a car makes it yours. You own that car, and you get to drive it, and no one else gets to unless you give them permission. It's the same with songs, written works, art, photos, and videos, including the videos you make. If you created it, it is yours. You and your stuff are protected. If someone else created it, it is theirs.

The thing about copyrights is, it protects you, too. If you make a video, write an article, take a picture, it is yours. And, it is automatically copyrighted. You don't have to register it and you don't even have include a copyright statement on it, along with that little © symbol, although doing so will give you more options when you feel your copyrights have been violated.

So your stuff is copyrighted. Now consider this scenario. SpeedTV, or some other big time media company, finds your fantastic drag racing video and likes it, and broadcasts it on TV, and makes a big bucket of money off of it. Of course, they attribute the work to you. Now you're famous and your work has been promoted by a big-time media company. Are you happy about that? Maybe you are, or maybe you'd like a paycheck, too. After all, your video obviously has commercial value, and someone is making money off of it, and that someone is not you.

Or consider this situation. Someone sees your video on Youtube, downloads it and integrates it into their video, uploads that, and it gets a zillion hits. They become famous, finally start getting dates, free coffee at Starbucks, and they never bothered to attribute your clips it to you. Everyone thinks they made that part, too.

Or how about this situation. You use someone's song in your video, and your video gets 10 zillion hits and now you are famous and get offered a job on "The Daily Show". Chances are someone out there is not completely happy with the situation. It was their efforts and creativity that helped you get that fantastic job and they didn't get mentioned even once. The least you could have done was send them a thank you card.

Can you see the problem here? Your work is copyrighted, and their work is copyrighted, so you need to find a good way to work this out. One way is hire lawyers, draw up contracts, and all that. Another is to just go ahead and use a song, for example, and not say anything, assuming that the nobel and artistic spirit that inspired you to make it, plus the flattery factor of you choosing that particular song, will actually make the copyright owner happy. Remember, the copyright owner of popular music is rarely held by the band, but rather by a bunch of accountant-types.

Really, there is only one thing you can do to stay out of trouble, and that is to get permission to use the work. There's no guarantee you'll get it, or that it won't cost you money, but that's just the way things are. If you want to attempt this, there's a good article at School Video News on this.

I have actually tried getting permission once and it worked out fine. First, I found the band on Facebook and emailed them asking for permission to use their song in an art project video. Someone from the band replied and was happy to give permission. After a while I began to think a band member might not be the best person to ask so I contacted the record label. I explained my situation and they replied saying that they didn't have any problem with people using their songs in that way, but when it comes to TV commercials and motives, that's a very different matter. So, that worked out nicely. Now if I could just repeat this for all the other music I would like to use.

Assuming you don't get permission, or don't want to bother, you still have options, none of which will get that copyrighted song into your video, but still, they are options. They are:

Royalty-free Music - Just Google that term and you will find many companies that offer royalty-free music you can use in your projects. Granted, you probably won't find a song that has that special something your original selection had, but that can work out for the better sometimes. Instead of using some well-known speed-metal song in your drag race video, use a classic piece instead. The juxtaposition can work. Or maybe you'll find a nice folk guitar piece has a pacing that fits your road race/track day video well.

Creative Commons: There is a big, and wonderful, open source community out there for software. The idea behind this community's approach is that by releasing computer code for all to use, study and learn from, and adapt and improve, that much good can come from this. Witness Linux.

Locking everything up using copyright and patent law may be one the traditional business ways of doing things, but some think that is short-sighted and actually inhibits creativity and innovation. The open source community does, however, employ the licensing concept, perhaps more out of necessity than for a desire for profit, but that licensing is generally pretty open and flexible and the creator can chose from an array of licence models, most of which are designed to simply keep open source code open.

In the media/art-oriented creative works world there is something similar, Creative Commons. Creative Commons was developed as a way to let artists share their work and promote collaboration and at the same time to exercise a degree of control over how the work is used. Creative Commons provides a number of licensing options that the artist can assign to their work. They include criteria such as attribution is required, or the work may or may not be modified, or it may or may not be used in commercial projects, and so on. It's a wonderful idea and it is one that you can employ to help control the use and reuse of your own work, and it makes it possible for you to use other people's work in your projects without having to go fight your way through a phalanx of lawyers and accountants.

Record Your Own Original Music: If you can do this and make it work then you probably didn't make it this far into this article.

Youtube, Etc.

I think it is very interesting how YouTube is handling the issue of copyrighted music in uploaded videos. First, they can detect when people do this and will alert them to potential conflicts. I have first hand experience with that. Apparently if it goes farther and the copyright holder complains Youtube will remove my video.

Second, Youtube offers an "Audio Swap" feature that will let you choose from the many songs they offer. I didn't have any trouble finding music I'd use, but if you do this all of the audio will be swapped, not just the music track.

Last, once Youtube identifies the song in a video they can post an ad over the video that links the viewer to Amazon or another site where you can purchase the song.

My thoughts on this, especially the last item, are "Interesting!" It seems that YouTube, and presumably the music companies, might have given up the fight and instead have started to appreciate the fact that it is the fans of the music that are doing this and that they are doing it in such a way that endorses and promotes the band and their music. But at the same time, Youtube has offered us the ability to replace that music with something a bit lesser known. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if Youtube managed to get everyone to exercise this option, or if Youtube intervened and did it themselves, basically wiping out all signs of the bands and their music. I'm trying to imagine a Youtube without any popular music on it, except those uploaded by the music companies, and I'm wondering what the folks in the board rooms of the record companies would say when they learned that a zillion of their songs had been purged from the biggest content site on the planet. That would mean they'd have to fall back on radio to get their songs heard. Just like back in the 1960's when I taped that Deep Purple album. (Note - the radio stations in our area never played songs by Deep Purple, or any of the other bands I liked enough to spend money on.)

Sources of Music for Your Video

Karen Abad, in the Vimeo forums, has compiled a list of sites where you can find free and royalty-free music. Link: Vimeo