When I first started teaching a video production class over ten years ago, I had the biggest battle that I had ever waged with my high school students – restricting the use of commercial music in their videos. My students hit puberty at the same time that Napster and other music downloading sites were becoming prevalent and the accepted norm of their times. I remember when iTunes first came onto the scene because I remember putting money into an iTunes account so my son would download his music legally rather than from the many sites that kept cropping up. Sometime after iTunes became established, apple also offered a royalty-free website called www.freeplaymusic.com that musician contributed to share their musical creations as a part of the pop culture endeavor of the time. It became quickly evident to me that I was going to need to understand copyright and fair use in an educational setting to know how to answer the question that was raised on an almost daily basis: Can I use this music in my video? How much of it can I use? If I don’t post my movie on the Internet, then can I use the commercial music that I downloaded? Do I need to give credit to the music that I used in my movie?

I started to explain to my students about fair use. There are four points to consider:

What is “fair use”?

Fair use is an exception to the exclusive protection of copyright under American law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. Depending on the circumstances, copying may be considered “fair” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching including multiple copies for classroom use, scholarship or research.To determine whether a specific use under one of these categories is “fair,” courts are required to consider the following factors: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole is it long or short in length, that is, are you copying the entire work, as you might with an image, or just part as you might with a long novel; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

via Copyright and Primary Sources – For Teachers Library of Congress.

At first I gave guidelines like, if your movie is 5 minutes long, then maybe you could use 30 seconds of one commercial song. My video students would argue, I’m not going to publish this on the internet so I can use commercial music according to fair use law. However frequently after they made the movie, and it really turned out well then they begged me to allow them to post it on the internet, even with the commercial music in it.

That was when I had to draw the line and the battle sides were drawn. I told my students that they could only use royalty-free music from http://www.freeplaymusic.com or write music themselves. No more commercial music. They also had to give attribution at the end of the movie in the credits, the name of the song and where they got it from. No exceptions.

For two years, every time a new student came into my classroom, the same questions were raised. “Why can’t I use a recorded song that I have downloaded?” “I bought it!” “Don’t I have the right to use it?” I would patiently answer that using it in an educational setting would probably not be a problem, however if they really liked their movie after it was finished, then distributing the finished product to others by copying to a DVD or putting it on the internet was distribution. Distribution of the commercial recorded music was the problem. That takes it out of the realm of “fair use” as far I understood it.

After about four years, the arguments lessened and students began to realize that I wasn’t going to budge on the subject, so the subject got dropped. Students began using royalty-free music, that was also lyric-free and became a good choice for background mood music to set the tone for their films. They started to appreciate the wide selection of songs that grew every year. Today, I am amazed at the quality and quantity of songs to choose from on http://www.freeplaymusic.com. The aspect I like the most is that I didn’t have to always approve the lyrics to the songs that the students chose since the songs didn’t have any lyrics to worry about.

Three years ago when I went to the first Kanto Film Fest meeting with other international schools in the Tokyo area to discuss the guidelines for the films, I brought up the idea, that the music needed to be royalty-free. The others were surprised by my idea, but I explained that since they were planning on posting the videos online that it was important to stress this requirement. Not every school followed it though. The idea of the music video category allowed students to preform to commercially recorded music and the films were no longer put online. But I felt like the quality of the movie dropped when the students took the easy way out and used a commercially recorded popular song that everyone would recognize. The music got the attention more than the quality of the effort in the film. By using royalty-free music the student’s film could shine through on its own merit without the glossy professional music supporting it.

Other free royalty-free resources for audio:




http://vimeo.com/musicstore  (need to make an account with vimeo)


Music - an art for itself - Headphones and music notes / musical notation system

Photo credit link to: www.planetofsuccess.com/blog by Photosteve101.