If you’re working on a video project for your business or event, you’re going to need to think about copyright. It’s not the most glamorous aspect of the production process, but it’ll certainly affect what gets included in your video. From on-screen content to the music you choose, copyright will be lurking under the surface of every creative decision.
DisclaimerWe must disclaim that we’re not lawyers. This article isn’t in any way, shape or form intended to be legal advice. We’re simply sharing our understanding of UK law.
You should independently fact check all of the information in this video before acting upon it. Please speak to a legal professional if you need advice.
Now that that’s been said, let’s look at copyright and how it affects your videos.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal mechanism that assigns ownership to intellectual property. For example, images, music and videos.
In the UK, copyright is granted on an original piece of work the moment it’s created. For example, if you take a photo or write a song, you own the copyright of that photo or song immediately. (As long as everything in that photograph or song is your own original piece of work.)
If you take a photo of someone else’s artwork, or record a cover of a pop song, you’re in much murkier territory.
Copyright on original pieces of work
But let’s assume your creation is all your own 100% original work. From the moment it’s created, it’s your property to do with as you please.
For a photo, you could make prints and sell copies to people. Or you could display your photo in a gallery, or put it on a t-shirt. With a song, you could put it on streaming services, burn it onto a CD and sell it, have vinyls pressed, or play the song live at concerts.
Nobody can stop you from using your work as you see fit. And nobody else will be able to use your work without getting your permission first. If they use your work without permission, you’ll be able to take them to court and demand that they stop. And they’d have to, or else they’d get in serious trouble.
Is it really that simple?
This is how copyright works in simple terms. But there are plenty of asterisks we could add to these examples. And we could end up discussing them for hours!
There’s a reason why a whole industry of copyright lawyers have jobs.
So, if you make something, you can do whatever you like with it. But other people can’t use it for their own purposes without your permission. Got it?
Using copyrighted material in your work
What happens if you want to use someone else’s copyrighted work in something you’re making? Like using a song in the background of your company’s latest video? This is where we start diving into some of those asterisks we mentioned. And understandably, it does get confusing for a lot of people.
When you buy a song on CD or from an online retailer like iTunes or Amazon Music, you’re buying a copy of that song that you can listen to on your computer, copy to your phone, and play on other devices. But the copyright of the song still belongs to the owner. You didn’t buy that.
All the owner has done is sell you a licence to download a copy of the song and listen to it for your own personal enjoyment. If you want to use the song commercially, you’ll need a different sort of licensing agreement that covers that type of usage.
Licensing copyrighted work
For pop songs, the licensing process can be very complicated, and very expensive. And using commercial music in videos isn’t covered by other types of music licences, like PRS or PPL, which you might already have in your workplace. But thankfully, there are plenty of stock music websites that contain libraries of music specifically licensed for commercial use.
Using “free to access” content
Another common misconception is what the copyright is on free-to-access content, like videos on YouTube or images on Google Image Search. Because it’s freely available to view, A significant number of people seem to think that they can use it however they like. But unfortunately, you’ll find that the terms and conditions of these services don’t let you use this content commercially without permission either.
Like music, there are plenty of stock photo and video libraries that you can get fully licensed media from, when you need it. They’re not always the cheapest route for getting media content, but they’re almost certainly cheaper than a copyright lawsuit!
Other routes to using copyrighted material
Of course, the only thing stopping you from using any intellectual property owned by someone else is their copyright. And if you desperately need to use a piece of copyrighted work for a project you’re working on, you could always try asking the owner for permission. The owner might say “yes” or offer to licence it to you for a fee.
The benefits of copyright
I’m sure you’re thinking this whole copyright thing is a massive pain in the neck, and we empathise because sometimes it can be. But you have to remember that there are many artists and creators out there making their living exclusively from licensing that work for other purposes. The moment you use someone else’s work for free, you’re denying them the financial compensation they deserve for their hard work. Would you want to go to work for a whole day and not be paid for it?
And of course, it’s not only artists and creators who benefit from copyright. If you make a promotional video for your company, copyright means that your competitors can’t go out there, steal bits of it and use it for their own purposes too. All in all, copyright is a great thing, and it means that anyone who’s spent time developing an original idea, product, or piece of work can be rewarded appropriately for it.
There’s much more to copyright than what we’ve gone into in this blog. But we hope it’s helped you get your head around the basic ideas of this complex, thorny, but ultimately beneficial legal mechanism.
Will I get in trouble for using a commercial song in my Instagram Stories?
This is definitely one of those asterisks. And it’s a big one, too.
If a big social media site like Instagram lets you add a commercial music track to your post, you shouldn’t have any problems. As long as you’re adding the song in the app, from the social media network’s music library, you won’t get in trouble for using that Billie Eilish song on your TikTok video. That’s because services like Instagram and TikTok have agreements with various record labels. This means it’s OK for those songs to be used on their platform.
But the licence will only cover videos that appear on each respective platform. If you take that TikTok video and upload it to your website, you could be leaving yourself open for trouble.
The same goes with GIFs from TV shows. It’s OK to use them for posts and comments on social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn if they have a GIF library. But if you start uploading TV show GIFs to your website, or incorporating them in your corporate video, you’re likely violating the terms of the GIF library.
They don’t make it easy, do they?
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