An animator asked me how I / if I acquired permission to use licensed music in my music video:

Hello Micheal!

I am quite an appreciator of some of your animation work! Most specifically being Rhythm and Rockets. I really think it’s an awesome piece and it’s inspired me to start making something of my own. My question however pertains to the music you used for Rhythm and Rockets. I have been trying to research the proper method for acquiring the rights to use a song in a short animation, but I’ve been having no luck so far. I’m trying to find a way to aquire (or potentially purchase if need be) the rights to use Michael Franti’s I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like), in the same way you used Make a New Dance Up. I’ve kind of reached a dead end in trying to find out where Capitol records would give that kind of license, as their website process does not seem to even have that song as a listing. If this was a process you went through, I would really appreciate a bit of help in finding the right way to go about this.

Thanks for your time!

This is an issue I was wondering for myself before I started uploading videos. I felt my response would be helpful to others’ who are worried about copyrighted music:

Hi Evan,

Glad you enjoy my work! I hope you succeed in finishing your passion project.

Like you, I did a ton of research on the laws and proper usage of copyrighted music. I would listen to songs and really want to make a music video with them, but was afraid of the legal issues.
Thankfully, U.S. law has Fair Use , which applies to copyrighted materials on the internet. I’ve studied fair use for awhile, but it gets somewhat complicated. For the majority of us internet animators, we can just rely on the licenses that YouTube has set up with record labels. And although most of this advice applies to animations on YouTube, it practically works for releasing content on the web in general.

1. Permission not required

For one thing, I did not ask for explicit permission from Hey Ocean (the band who made Make a New Dance Up).
The reason is it’s because they are managed by a large recording label company, who do not have the time to do business with a small animator like me.
Even if they did consider granting me a usage license, it would probably cost multiple thousands of dollars. Definitely not worth it.
This has an upside though! Since they are too busy making other deals, it is very likely they would not sue me or pursue legal action to take down my work.

2. Monetizing is not allowed

Before YouTube, when I only published my animations as Flash animations on websites, there was very little risk of my movie being “taken down”.
But nowadays, I upload to YouTube, which has automatic content identification. When you upload a song that has been registered with a public recording company, YouTube will detect it and flag it.
Although “Make a New Dance Up” was flagged, the usage policy on the song allowed me to publish my work just as long as I do not monetize.This is the case for most copyrighted music.
So, if you have a creative idea that involves using a popularized song, you can probably use it. Just don’t expect to make any money off of it.
It is important to give off the vibe that you made this movie for artistic purposes, instead of competing with the original creator.

3. Play nice with automatic copyright detection

Sometimes YouTube will completely deny the usage of a particular song, which is a bummer.
Since animation takes a ton of time, I usually check if the music can even be uploaded.
If there is a version of the song that is uploaded by some random person, then chances are, you will be able to use it in a video as well.
For example, the song you wish to use has been uploaded in a lyric video here:
That means, you can probably make your own video with the song.
Despite this, I always upload a private “test video” with the song, so I can inspect the specific copyright policies myself.
EDIT: You can actually browse all the copyright policies here:
If your song is blocked, don’t try to “bypass” the content detection system. It will give YouTube and the record label more reason to take down your work.

Oh, and it goes without saying:

Always clearly credit the sources you use. In the description AND the movie credits itself.
They deserve credit, and it helps you legally.
Over time, I’ve found you gotta take a very calculated risk with the music you use.
Even if you follow all of these guidelines, there is always a chance the recording label will update their policy on the song, making it unusable for you.
But I’ve found that this is a very safe approach, and I’ve never been contacted by the creator or any lawyers about using their copyrighted music.
Thanks for emailing me about this. It has given me a chance to formally write down my methodology on copyrighted music.
It is a big decision whether or not to use a song, but once you discover it is safe to use it, it’s awesome!
You have industry-level professional music backing your creation!
Good luck with your project,


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8 thoughts on “(Q&A) How can I use copyrighted music in my project?

    • Don’t worry! By following what I wrote up above, even if you do get caught (which is not a big deal), you won’t get in trouble.

  1. Gildedguy. If you want to use his original song to your music video, you must ask his permission. Not just stealing his song without asking his permission… or something. I don’t really know. I hope you understand.

    • I disagree! You do not NEED to ask for their permission.

      Of course you can ask to be polite, but unless they take legal actions (copyright claims, take down notices, telling you to stop, etc.) there is nothing preventing you from using the music.

      If they don’t respond/take action, you are being permitted by default.

  2. Hey Gildedguy. Are using video game soundtrack (that are downloaded from some website which is illegal) for animation it’s fine, as long i gave credit and use it on entertainment purpose without profit like other music you mentioned and used? (The “fair use” that i read on internet from and other website confused me so that’s why i asked you)

    • I believe video game OST’s follow the same rules as all other copyrighted tracks. I won’t say using anything is fine, because you can technically get in trouble for almost anything involving copyright.

      It is always a judgement call. If you project is unlikely to get a lot of exposure (more than, say, 30k views?), then you ought to be 99% fine.

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