Music Licensing in Retail and eCommerce Videos – How to Stay Legal!


One of the biggest problems with creating videos for the web is obtaining a licensee to use copyrighted music. Many videos infringe on the copyright of the musicians and publishers by using music without permission, which has led to some very bad legal consequences. In this interview with co-founders of the professional music library and licensing company Affix Music, Simon Horrocks and Michael Weeman share their expertise on what retail and eCommerce enterprises need to pay special attention to with any music they include in their videos.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER! The following is meant for general information purposes only. It should not be construed as, or substituted for, professional legal advice. For that, we strongly recommend you consult with an attorney!

My Interview Q&A with Affix Music

How common do you find it for retail and eCommerce enterprises to be using professional music recordings in their videos without getting proper clearances?

Surprisingly common, especially given the coverage the issue has gotten over the past few years and the potential repercussions for a company being found guilty of infringement.

What are some of the reasons you find this to be the case?

Often it’s a general lack of awareness and understanding – Music licensing has never been the most intuitive business, and the complicated nature of the process can itself contribute to infringement. Potential licensees may lack the knowledge to even know where to start, and many content producers simply don’t have the personnel or internal expertise necessary to properly license popular music for their productions. Other times, infringement occurs because of incorrect beliefs, such as assuming that a license isn’t required if you are only using a small sample of the music (which is not the case).

And, of course, there’s plenty of people who knowingly infringe. They’re willing to roll the dice of not getting any permission or paying, under the assumption they simply won’t be caught for use on a less-trafficked website or for internal use.

Have you found more people are getting caught and punished for this kind of copyright infringement?

As the popularity and profitability of web video rises, rights owners and others are closely monitoring the integration of copyrighted music in online programming and advertising.  Copyright infringement of music on the Web is becoming easier to discover, track and trace. The viral nature of web video means that human identification is more likely as more people see the infringing use, and today’s automated monitoring technology is highly effective and likely to get even better. The current law provides stiff penalties for infringement should copyright owners wish to pursue them, and newly proposed laws envision felony criminal charges in some instances.  For companies, it’s simply not worth the risk of using unlicensed music in your productions.

So what are some typical music needs of retail and eCommerce enterprises that come to you?

Plenty.  They can include major retailers publishing video for an in-store brand launch, to programming portals integrating brand-sponsored advertisements with purchase options, to promoters and events driving online ticket sales through promotional sizzle pieces. In the competitive marketplace, these companies are looking to differentiate and connect with target audiences by leveraging the power and popularity of commercial quality music.

Their licensing needs often depend on the type of piece they’re producing or programming. For example:

  • The term (or length of license) required is often longer with a regularly featured video program; budgets are generally larger for advertisements and promos.
  • Companies producing social media pieces often want to insure they’re covered in perpetuity, as they don’t want to have to police where the content ends up and for how long.

Almost all, though, are operating in a fast moving media marketplace that need to be able to license quickly with confidence.  They are also often producing volume for the Web on a fraction of the budgets allocated for broadcast productions, and they need a solution that takes into account their resources.  Ultimately, they want a hassle-free solution that gives them access to premium music at affordable prices with flexibility in terms and a quick transaction process.

What tips can you give to eCommerce and retail professionals who need professional-quality music for their online videos?

  1. Look for companies that offer commercial grade music of the style that fits your project. To make your productions sounds special, keep an eye out for catalogs comprised of real music by real artists; stock music makes for stock-sounding video.  If you’re confident in your music selection abilities, evaluate the catalog on your own.  If you aren’t, look to see what like-minded, musically savvy companies are using them.
  2. Make sure you always get two licenses for each piece of professional music. If time is of the essence, look for catalogs that represent “both sides” of the copyright – the master recording and the underlying composition – and that have “pre-cleared” the rights necessary to issue a license to you instantaneously. “One stops” like these are often able to offer one license rather than two and can cut down on the time, effort and cost.
  3. Make sure the license that the catalog is offering to you covers the rights necessary for the use. It may be clear what license is right for the project, or you may need to clarify.  Any reputable company will be more than willing to answer any questions you have to help you find what you need.

Legally and affordably licensing quality music for online video use does not have to be hard. However, licensing is not an easy space to navigate, so ask questions and educate yourself as much as you can on the topic.  You don’t want to cut corners – which can be tempting since licensing generally happens at the end of a project when time and money are limited.  Music is crucial for setting mood and tone so be prepared and budget for it.

Legal issues aside, why should eCommerce and retail professionals consider using premium-quality music in their videos?

Today, viewers don’t give online video a pass on quality just because it is “online”; they now demand similar quality as broadcast.  Music has always been a major component in good TV programming and advertising.  As the public begins to move in mass from to the TV screen to the computer screen, web video is expected to live up to the made-for-TV content with both live side-by-side on the Web.  Engaging video requires quality music in its soundtrack.  If you expect to engage online in today’s competitive environment, then cheap stock music should not be considered a serious option to integrate into your video content.

Helpful Links & Videos

For more information on legal issues and guidance with using music in your web videos, I recommend checking out these articles:


The video cannot be shown at the moment. Please try again later.

I also recommend checking out my video interview with attorney Daliah Saper (featured above) – herself a former legal counsel for the RIAA and a regular on Fox Business News, with law specialties including new media, intellectual property, and music licensing.

About Affix Music

Affix Music offers premium and affordable music licensing solutions, along with strong working relationships with recording artists and music publishers. You can check them out at www.affixmusic.com; along with their YouTube channel featuring client and music provider interviews.

Image credit to iStockphoto.com ©Talaj, file # 106497901

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