How to Get Permission to Use a Song in a Short Film

Written By:

How to Get Permission to Use a Song in a Short Film

Whether you’re producing a short film, commercial, or similar video. There’s a very strong chance that you’ll want to incorporate music into the production. However, if you aren’t a musician, you’ll most definitely need to use a song that’s already been written and recorded by an artist. And that means you’ll need to ask permission. Learning how to get permission to use a song in a short film or video is all about understanding music licensing rights. 

Whatever you do, don’t just think you can use a song in your short film. Not without taking the steps to properly seek permission to do so. It could come back to bite you!

You should always seek a license for the rights to music that you intend to include in your films. Regardless of how short the film will be. Or how miniscule the music lyrics or melodies will be within the context of the film.

Licensing Rights & Permissions

A license for the rights to use music in a short film is always required. Unless the music is open source and free for commercial use without any type of licensing. Which is rare.

Even if you just want to use a very small portion of a recorded song. Or you just want to create a short YouTube video that includes a song. A license to the rights to include that music in your video is required.

As a filmmaker, failure to get the required permissions and licenses for the music used in a film can result in your film having to be removed from distribution channels. It may also result in the artists who own the music rights filming a lawsuit against you.

Public Domain Music

If you cannot afford to pay for the rights to use a song, or you find that you cannot seem to get permission to use a song (which we’ll discuss in full detail next) then you might consider the use of public domain music.

This is free to use music which is not Copyrighted or in which Copyright has expired. And has explicit authority from the author to be used publicly in any and all countries and for virtually any purpose. 

There are many websites and various sources available to help filmmakers. And those interested in using music in their works find public domain music. Keep in mind though, that you must use public domain music.

Do not rely solely on expired Copyright as a means of determining a song is public use. Because it may not be!

Getting Permission to Use a Copyrighted Song

Figuring out how to get permission to use a song in a short film gets a little bit tricky when the song has been Copyrighted. This is because copyright rights for a song are typically owned by several individuals and not just one.

Sync and Master Rights

The songwriter will hold publisher rights which are also known as “sync” rights. Likewise, the individual who recorded the song will hold “master” rights.

This is because each musical piece will have separate copyrights for the actual musical composition. As well as for the specific recording that you intend to use.

Obtaining rights to use a song in a short film requires first that you determine what song you wish to use. And what portion of the song will be used. As well as the context in which you will use the music.

Make sure that you’ve got all of this in mind before you begin to seek rights from the artist as most will want to know when, why and where their music will be used, even in a  short film.

Next, follow these steps to obtain permission or a license to the music:

  • Check ASCAP to find information about alternative titles as well as about the writers, performers, and publishers of copyrighted songs.
  • Determine the types of rights that you will require: Synchronization license, master use license, mechanical rights, performance rights.
  • Submit detailed requests for rights to the copyright holders and include a synopsis of your film as well as the projected budget for the music. Be sure to include as much detail as possible about how you will use the song.
  • Obtain a signed license agreement for the rights, make sure to have this agreement reviewed by an attorney to ensure accuracy for your situation.

As you can see, learning how to get permission to use a song in a short film is certainly a complex process that is likely to take some time and some negotiations. If you’re limited on time, or budget, you might consider public domain or open source music your best bet. 

“The information contained on this website is for general use only and should not be taken as legal advice. Beverly Boy Productions assumes no responsibility or liability for the use, or misuse, of information contained herein which is provided on an as-is basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness. Visitors are encouraged to consult with an attorney before making any legal decisions – Beverly Boy Productions is NOT an attorney and does not provide any such legal advice.” #TEAM BEVERLYBOY