As a photographer, I know what it feels like to have my images used without my permission. Those of us who earn a living selling photos are particularly sensitive to Copyright infringement. Yet, countless times, I see photographers using illegal music in their public slide shows. It’s time to put an end to that practice.

If you’re a photographer and you do a slide show, create a website or deliver photos on a CD/DVD to your clients and you include commercial music; music for which you hold no license, you could be in violation of the law.

The very same U.S. Copyright Act (to which many nations are a signatory) that we rely on for protection of our photographs, protects musicians too.

While you may think it’s an innocent infringement, or that you are somehow helping to build “awareness” for the artist, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re probably infringing the Copyright holder when you use Copyrighted music that hasn’t been “cleared” for public performance.

You could call the Rolling Stone’s publishing house and ask for a license, but chances are you won’t want to pay the royalty fees. If you show your slide show to anyone outside your immediate family, or especially if you put it onto some sort of electronic medium and distribute it for profit, and you include illegal music, you’re just as guilty of infringement as the person who uses your photograph to sell their product without your permission.

This is particularly easy to explain using the following example. Let’s say you decide to use a popular Rolling Stones song on a slide show that you’re using to sell high school seniors on having you shoot their portraits. You distribute 200 copies of a DVD to the local high school showing off your work accompanied by Mick and his pals. Unless you have a license, you’re guilty of infringement. No big deal you say? How would you feel if the Rolling Stones found 10 of your photos they really liked and used them (without your permission, a license from you or compensation to you) on their next album? Would you be ticked? Of course you would. If you’re a professional, you expect to get paid for your work the same as the musicians do.

There’s a simple solution. You can use licensed music. Royalty free licensed music is a particularly good solution for photographers because you can use it over and over, online and in person, even on CD/DVDs. Depending on the license, you have only a few restrictions, i.e., you can’t resell the music as your own or include it in a collection of music you want to sell to other photographers.

There are several sources of such music. Unfortunately, most offer mediocre music or licensing terms that aren’t friendly to photographers. I recently came upon Stock20 and they are the exception. They offer lots of music that’s appropriate for photo slideshows and the music is incredible. The writing, performance and production is first rate. You can download any selection for $20 and you’re done. You can use the song on as many slide shows, web sites, etc as you want for all time. You have no reporting requirement and no need to fear the long arm of the law. They’ll give you a printable license as proof that you’re legally entitled to use the music.

The music is sorted into genres, moods and instrumentation. There is a Flash-based audition player that lets you listen to music to see if you like it. Most songs come with multiple length versions so you can avoid having to buy a long song and then edit it down. The search engine they offer lets you look for music based on instrument, occasion, mood, tempo, etc.

I am really impressed with the process. After you select your music, you may download it immediately or you may select having the music mailed to you on a CD for an additional charge.

The music is available in high-quality WAV format or lower-quality MP3 format. You can download individual cuts or the entire selection, all at the same price. You can download as part of a ZIP file or separately.

This is hands down the best solution I’ve seen since shopping for legal music to use for my photo slide shows. I’ve downloaded 10 different pieces of music already and plan on getting more.


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  1. […] to Make Your Music Legal Posted on 15 April 2009 by Steve Crane Time to Make Your Music Legal « Photofocus As a photographer, I know what it feels like to have my images used without my permission. Those […]

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