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Music Copyrights for Photographers

We live in an ultra connected world where the amount of media seemingly free for the taking is virtually unlimited. This is not a rant on stealing, fair use or copyrights for that matter. It’s really some thoughts on creating and sharing work. Photographers are content creators just like musicians, writers, sculptors, painters and every other artist. Just as one kind of artist might not be skilled in another one’s field, it doesn’t mean they can appropriate someone else’s work into their own.

Done Often Doesn’t Mean Done Right

We all see videos on YouTube that use music that is not licensed for use in that work. People seem to think that because it’s on the Internet or on their computer it’s OK to use in a derivative work.

It’s not OK. Actually it’s illegal. Copyright violation is a Federal crime. The “I-didn’t-know-it-was-copyrighted” defense doesn’t work. Ever. It falls under the ignorance-of-the-law-is-no-excuse rule.

What Can You Do?

So a photographer (in this case me), wants to make a video that shows the entire take of a shoot. I have two options. One is to produce it as a silent movie. It might work or it might be super boring.

Take a look at my “first pass.” Don’t worry it’s only fifty-three seconds long.

What Should You Do?

The second option is to license music.

Once upon a time, I did a three projector slide show showcasing a trip I had made to Brussels, Belgium. I used Gershwin’s “American in Paris” as the soundtrack. I showed the work to the managing director of Sabena Airlines. He loved it and wanted to take it all over the South to promote the news that Atlanta now was served by an international carrier.

Yep. It was a loooonnnnggg time ago. Even then, I knew that I did not own the rights to use the music so I called the agency handling that music and explained what I wanted to do. They were happy to grant a license–for $1,500.00 in mid-eighties money. Sabena said “No thanks” on that one. Ultimately I got them to pay for original music which was a lot cheaper than the license.

Living in Today’s World

Fast forward to the present. Photographers, especially wedding, event and boudoir photographers, animate their work beautifully, flowing to the beats and melodies with breathtaking transitions.

These videos are part of the deliverables for their customers; sometimes on a thumb drive or on a website like YouTube or Vimeo. This music has to be licensed. It is so public now that finding violators is relatively easy. Photographer’s can avoid problems and embarrassment that having a client receive a desist letter and an invoice for copyright infringement brings.

There are music licensing options now that are quite affordable.

I talked with Roy Ashen from Triple Scoop Music at this year’s Imaging USA. He explained that music for photographers is available for about $60.00 a song. That’s in today’s dollars. Sixty bucks. Look at and hear the difference a soundtrack makes in the same video (well almost. I redid the credits which added eight seconds.)

This video worked as a silent piece. It really works with music.

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