As an audio-only art form, it’s common for a podcast to feature other snippets of audio media alongside the conversation, like songs or sound bites. However, doing so can lead to legal complications if you plan on inserting copyrighted music into your show, so you need to learn the basics.
Can you use copyrighted music in a podcast? You will not be able to play copyrighted music in a podcast unless the copyright owner has given you authority.
There are other methods for finding music and sound effects to play in a podcast that hasn’t been copyrighted, so consider using them.
If you want to know how to use copyrighted music in podcast programs without getting sued, it’s a lot trickier than you think, and probably not worth it in the long run.
This beginner’s guide to copyrighted music will cover common myths, why you should avoid using it, and how to play music legally on your show.
What Does Copyrighted Music Mean?
Copyright gives exclusive rights to the owner of a piece of art and protects the expression of this art piece in many forms. Music copyrights are covered by a system of rights that outlines how it can be used and what can and can’t be done with that piece of music.
The copyright owner will depend on the music, with the most likely owners being the composer, lyricist, or musician.
If you’re thinking of ways on how to use copyrighted music in podcast, stop right there. As the exclusive owner of the piece of music, it’s up to them to decide how it’s used, distributed, performed, or broadcasted to protect their creation and prevent others from benefiting from it.
Most songs you hear on the radio or on your favorite TV show will be protected by copyright, which means you cannot just play them on your podcast.
As a public broadcast, you don’t have the right to share another person’s creation on your show without their permission, and you can get into lots of trouble if you do.
Can You Get Into Trouble If You Found A Way How To Use Copyrighted Music In Podcast?
Copyright laws differ all around the world, but generally, these laws protect the owner of the music and prevent others from playing it without permission.
The music industry operates under many rules and obligations, with copyright violation being one of the most serious crimes that can be committed.
If you play copyrighted music on your podcast and you’re found guilty of copyright infringement, you can be fined a phenomenal amount.
Depending on the circumstances, these fines range between $750 and $30,000, which will likely spell the end of your podcast, as well as your bank account.
Misconceptions About Copyrighted Music
With such severe repercussions on how to use copyrighted music in podcast, it’s best to stay away and educate yourself on the common myths surrounding it, so you don’t make a huge mistake.
These are the misconceptions you might hear about copyrighted music and what the reality is:
The 30-Second Rule
Some people believe that if they only use a small snippet of copyrighted music rather than playing the whole song, they’ll be okay. This 30-second rule is a complete myth and applies to even smaller snippets like three or 10 seconds.
The best approach on how to play copyrighted music in podcast is to play no parts of a copyrighted song and avoid the backlash entirely.
Another common myth is that if you give credit to the artist or creator of the music you’re playing on your show, they can’t do anything about it.
Unfortunately, this is not true either, and even if you acknowledge the rightful owner of a piece of music before or after playing it, you can still be heavily fined.
If you plan on using music and wish to contact the artist directly to see if they’ll allow this to happen, you can do so, and if they give you their approval, you should credit them after playing the song.
When researching on how to use copyrighted music in podcast, you’ll often encounter the concept of fair use. The fair use law is a commonly misquoted one when looking at copyrighted materials and one that you should never rely upon.
When going before a judge, the factors looked at to determine fair use are the purpose, the nature of the copyrighted content, how much was used, and the effect it had on the potential market.
While this might sound like it’s okay for a small-scale podcast that doesn’t make any money to play a snippet of a popular song in their intro music, the courts won’t see it so naively. It’s best to discount the fair use defense if you’re considering playing copyrighted music.
Not for Profit
People often assume that copyright laws only apply to businesses or brands that stand to make money from using someone else’s content.
This is not true either, and even if you’re running a not for profit podcast that gives all of its earnings to the local children’s hospital, you will still be held liable for stealing music (if you’ve somehow figured out how to play copyrighted music in podcast) and playing it on your show.
The same goes for private podcasts that are only played to a small number of people, like within an organization or workplace, as this will be treated by the general public.
How to Legally Use Music in a Podcast
With the proper placement and choice, there can be loads of benefits to using music in a podcast. To ensure it’s done legally, though, you’ll want to consider these methods when choosing something suitable:
- Creative Commons: This is an open licensing standard that lets music creators share their music for free with others, but with specific stipulations on how it’s used and shared. Creative Commons is actually a legitimate way to circumvent the rules on how to use copyrighted music in podcast. You can find assets under creative commons licenses that might be perfect for a podcast episode, but make sure you follow the rules that have been set out for them.
- Purchasing a License: If you have some money to work with, you might want to license the rights to a specific piece of commercial music. However, more popular songs will have an astronomical price on their license, so you’re best sticking to stock music and sound effects that will likely be within your price range.
- Create Your Own Music: The best way how to use copyrighted music in podcast is to create one yourself. These days it’s easy to create a piece of music yourself, even if you’re not musically minded. Check out music-making software and apps that let you produce full-length songs or snippets, and consider adding these to your podcast.
- US Government Content: A lesser-known fact is that you can use content that’s been created by a federal US government employee, including audio and theme music tracks, as long as it was created as part of their official role. The likelihood that this will include any great song is small, but you can use audio clips from events and speeches which might help.
Do You Need Music in a Podcast?
If you’re a podcast host, it can be daunting to think about having to fill an entire hour’s episode up with just your voice.
However, that doesn’t mean that adding in some copyrighted material from a world-famous band will help, especially when the repercussions are so hefty.
Some people assume that if they learn how to use copyrighted music in podcast, it can help to break up these awkward silences or even add excitement to a podcast, but it’s not something you want to rely on, especially considering the consequences.
A podcast should be carefully constructed and delivered in an engaging matter so that good music is the last thing on your listener’s mind.
There are times when music can help with an audio program, like if you’re showing an example of something or creating a mood, and in these cases, choosing legally acquired tracks is best.
As we’ve discussed earlier, there are loads of great resources out there that you can use to find legal music for your podcast that’s not already protected by copyright.
We suggest putting all of your energy into creating a podcast that doesn’t need a good introduction song or some background music to set the mood.
If you can make something engaging and informative, the lack of music playing on your podcast won’t even be noticeable to your audience.
The Matters of Music
When you think about the format of your podcast and what you’re delivering to an audience, is it essential to play a famous song just to draw people in? (Also see, “Types of Podcasts – Different Formats For Podcasters“)
Your podcast should have enough quality content to attract listeners, so if you’re relying on using copyrighted music illegally to get an audience, you need to go back to the drawing board.