Legally Using Music in Multimedia Composition

Legally Using Music in Multimedia Composition

Much confusion exists about legal use of music in multimedia composition. When thinking of fair use, a cloud of fog blows in that makes it hard to know if well-intentioned work will be subject to legal action from the creator.
Furthermore, programs like iMovie and Windows Live Movie Maker allow users to pull full songs directly from their music libraries and include them in their home made films.
Students should think critically about the fairness of their use of copyrighted music and be able to defend their choices according to fair use laws. Even with a careful study of fair use, it can be confusing for students (and me) to navigate the legalities of musical accompaniment in multimedia projects that the world will see on YouTube or on user blogs. I purposely ask students to post their final projects to the web because I don’t want them to learn how to compose in a vacuum. Their defense of creative decisions should hold up in the culture of sharing that we call the 21st century.

The tricky thing is that most sound recordings have a copyright lasting until 2067 that prevents public use without paying a fee. The constitutional amendment that extends copyright (known as ‘‘Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998’’) does not discuss the use of copyrighted music for non-commercial purposes.

To the left, I’ve included some links to sources that can help alleviate the nervousness and ambiguity of music use. I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with creative commons licensing, a form of copyright that grants users rights to use and transform creative works without fear of litigation.

About npiasecki

Instructor of Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado Denver, specializing in 21st century skills, research, and creative nonfiction. Director of the Denver Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project's professional network for K through College educators.
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