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I want to... Use music as part of a commercial or YouTube video

December 30, 1899


​​License required

Synchronization (sync) rights, unless fair use applies.


Synchronization (sync) rights are the rights to use music in combination with visual images such as in movies, videos, or television. These rights are not covered under the compulsory licensing provisions for audio recordings and must be individually negotiated between an institution and the copyright holder(s). Keep in mind that there typically are 2 copyright owners involved in using a recorded piece of music:

  1. The music publisher, which owns the musical work itself.
  2. The owner of the copyright in the sound recording. 

Even where an exemption does not apply under Section 110 of the Copyright Act, it may be possible to proceed under the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act. Found in § 107 of the Act, fair use involves the use of a copyrighted work for such purposes as teaching, research, reporting, or criticism, and outlines 4 factors that should be used in determining whether a use falls under this doctrine.

The § 107 factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Determining whether or not a particular use of music is a fair use can be difficult. As the U.S. Copyright Office has explained: “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.”

A number of colleges and universities have established online tools to aid in making a fair-use analysis. We have listed some of those sites here:


Contact the publisher or copyright holder of the musical work and, if applicable, recorded performance of the musical work. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and SESAC (originally the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers) contain information on music publishers, and the Copyright Office, allows users to search registered copyright information for both publishers and record labels.

As an alternative to negotiating with copyright holders and publishers, general music for use in commercials or advertisements may be purchased from stock music companies such as, GreenLight Music, and The Music Bed, among others.


Determined through negotiation; can vary greatly depending on use.

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