Rule number one: never use a song you bought at the local record store (do they still call them “record” stores?). Rule number two: never, ever use a song you bought anywhere without written permission. Get the point? This is illegal and could end up costing you big bucks!
I learned this the hard way. I let a client talk me into using Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and Bob Seger’s “Horizontal Bop” in a promotional video used to sell an event. This client would play the video during a seminar to get the attendees to sign up for this “next level” class. Unfortunately, a competitor was in the audience and “blew the whistle.” They called the copyright police and, within a couple of days, both the client and I were served a “cease and desist” order. The court document demanded $10,000 plus a percentage of every unit sold! Luckily, we had just finished the video; none of the recordings had been sold or delivered, so not much damage was done. We promised not to use the video with the songs, got a slap on the wrist and learned our lesson.
Now, what was rule number one again? Good — don’t forget it! If there is a published song you would like to use in your production, you have to obtain a music license or permission from the holder of the copyright. Sound complicated? Most of the time it is — not to mention expensive. Just tracking down the right person to apply to is enough to give up, let alone the sticker shock once the request is made.
Here are a few examples of artists and the costs for licensing their music. One disclaimer: these occurred over a long stretch of time, so the prices are neither current nor correct for purchase today. I list them as examples of the various fees involved for the different calibers of songs. “Crazy,” written by Willie Nelson, sung by Loretta Lynn: $25,000 limited use for one year. “Jump, Jive and Wail,” by Brian Setzer: $5,000 for the life of the product. “Storms in Africa,” by Enya: $20,000 for usage and $ .25 per unit reproduction fee, regardless. “Surfing USA,” by the Beach Boys: $10,000 for a 7-week television usage.
So, exactly how do you copyright a recording? I am not going to go into detail about it here, since that could be a book in itself. In fact, there are many good books available on copyrighting. For more information on how to file a copyright, contact the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Interested in learning more about professional media services like audio/video? Contact me at 800-647-4281.