It can’t be a coincidence. Twice in one day I was asked where videographers can find some royalty free music, so after having done my own research a few months ago (and having asked a friend lawyer and the Creative Commons’ own lawyer too) I decided to write down what I know about the issue (this is not legal advice, just my own knowledge on the subject). And it is an ‘issue’, because finding true “royalty-free” music is a difficult task.
So, according to the very restricted definition of “fair use” that most countries have, you can’t use a copyrighted, commercial composition with your home videos of your dog. Just like you are not allowed to rip your own DVDs for your own iPod. Yes, the “fair use” law is not that fair, but that’s the law, and it’s the same for most countries.
Because of these limitations, the Creative Commons (CC) project was created. CC is not a single license, but rather a combination of license components (“clauses”) that the artist can pick and choose elements to put together a custom license. Here is an overview of these clauses, which you better read them and understand what each does. The artist can use any combination of these 4 clauses (by, sa, nd, nc) to license their musical work (e.g. by-sa, or by-sa-nd, etc).
Now, as a consumer videographer, chances are that you are not shooting video for money. Which means that either Public Domain licensed music (there are not many high quality public domain recordings btw), or Creative Commons one will be ideal for your projects.
NOT SO FAST.
According to the CC lawyer, music that is licensed under the “nd” CC license (“non-derivative”), can not be used with video. Syncing between audio and video is prohibited. I personally believe that this sucks royally, because 50% of Creative Commons licensed music is actually using the “nd” clause. The CC project started with “freedom” in mind, but by defining “A/V syncing” as “derivative work” (even if the actual music was not modified over the original), it limits videographers immensely (I _really_ wish that the CC founders change that clause to include video in the future). So, any music that it’s marked with the “nd” clause is currently out of the question.
Then, there is the “NC” clause (“non-commercial). Be very careful about this one. Even if you are not charging money for your video, if you upload that video on a site that has advertisement (even if that’s your own blog, or YouTube), then that’s *commercial use* and it’s prohibited. However, if you only use it for your own burned DVDs, including burning for your friends and family, that’s ok.
Then, there is the “SA” clause (“share-alike”). This clause allows usage of the composition as long as your video is licensed under the same license. This is not too bad, but it also means that if you have a great shot that Steven Spielberg wants to use as stock footage, he can’t, because his movies won’t be licensed under the same license (he will have to get written authorization directly from you to get around the “sa” license). This is a “viral” license, similar to what the GPL is in the software world. Anything that uses music licensed as such, will have to use the same “sa” license from then on. Same goes for the popular French “ArtLibre” license (aka “Free Art License”), which is also viral.
Lastly, there is the “by” clause (“Attribution”). This is the most liberal for all the CC licenses, as it only asks to give credit to the artist, in the credit roll. That’s it, there are no other restrictions. That’s what I personally use for my projects (check my credit roll). This license is similar to the BSD license of the software world. Only problem is, from all the CC music available, there is less than 5% licensed only under the “by” license, so selection is limited.
Of course, as I said above, there can be combinations of these clauses, so pay attention when you download a piece of music. There are also some other types of clauses (e.g. CC with no clauses at all, Sampling+, etc), but very few compositions are licensed under these, so I won’t be explaining them here.
Now, you probably feel doomy and gloomy about all this, but there’s not much you can do other than learning to compose your own music yourself. Creative Commons licensed music –despite these severe limitations specifically for videographers— is still the No1 source for free music. Download such music from Jamendo (Bittorrent is not required to download from there btw, just open the .m3u playlist files with a text editor and copy the .mp3 URLs to download), and from ccMixter.
Again, be careful under which clauses each album/song is licensed under. Finally, if you actually download from ccMixter, be very careful to NOT use compositions that remix upon commercial songs. For example, a potential ccMixter remix of Linkin Park’s “Numb” song will be a violation of Linkin Park’s copyright if you use it on your own video, even if the actual remix is licensed under a CC license (allowed exceptions: journalism, parody, educational purposes, or if the song was directly licensed from the band/label). In other words: choose original compositions, and choose wisely!
Good luck with this mess.
Alternatively, you can simply license a full album from Magnatune for just $5 (includes youtube allowance, although it’s required that your video is non-commercial otherwise), and be done with it. You can select from 500+ professionally-recorded albums.