Music Copyright Resources

Using Recorded Music on the Web

If you want to use or post recorded music on the web (for example on Facebook, YouTube, etc.) or make recorded music available online, you will most likely need to obtain and pay for special licensing from the owner(s) of the music or recordings in question.  While principles of fair use protect reasonable uses of sound recordings in the context of teaching, scholarship, and research, fair use principles have limited application outside of those contexts (for example in videos created by colleges or departments for informational or promotional purposes).  Such uses usually require permission and often the payment of fees for at least one, and typically two, separate licenses.

Although Cornell holds campus-wide licenses from entities including BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and Global Music that allow the performance of music on campus, these licenses do not cover the inclusion of music in a video nor the posting of music on social media or other internet sites.

Simply posting music requires what is called a "mechanical license".  Any time that you want to combine music with visual images, for example, in a video or movie, you will need another specific kind of license or licenses.  If you will be performing the song yourself or having someone else perform it for you, you will need a "Synchronization license."  "Synchronization Rights" must be obtained from the music publisher to use a musical composition.  If you will be using a specific pre-existing sound recording of a song, you will need a "Master Use license" in addition to the synchronization license.  A master use license is obtained from the artist or record label and gives you the right to use a particular recording.

Rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC maintain publicly accessible databases of publishers and songwriters that can assist you in identifying the parties that you need to contact, but these rights organizations do not grant master or synchronization licenses.  For those rights, you need to contact the individual rightsholder(s).  This process can be complicated.  For example, several copyright holders may own a fractional share of a particular work.  It can also be time consuming and can take months to complete.  And, there is no guarantee of a successful outcome.  It can often be impractical or impossible to obtain the license that you need.  Copyright owners have the right to set any price, take as much time as they want to respond, and reject any request for a license. 

Unfortunately, no well-developed compulsory license mechanisms or blanket licenses are available to facilitate obtaining these rights as there are for live performance of music.

There are companies that offer licensing (and even blanket licensing) of the music in their catalogs.  Some of these include:

Several commercial entities offer music clearance services.  Some of these include:

The best practical solution may therefore be to use only music that is in the public domain.  See, for example, the Public Domain Information Project:

It is important to be vigilant about avoiding the improper inclusion of musical content.

Using music (as well as photographic images and other copyrighted material) without a license or permission exposes the university to potentially costly infringement claims.

If you have questions, please contact the Office of General Counsel.

Information contained on this website is educational in nature and is not to be construed as legal advice.

If you seek legal advice, please contact the Office of General Counsel.

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