Thursday, 5 April 2012

Finding copyright safe material for video editing

Image from Q Thomas Bower under
a CC BY-SA 2.0 license 

Students (and academics) embarking on video projects can sometimes be surprised that copyright laws aren't more flexible when it comes to creating video work for academic purposes. You often have to be the bearer of bad news that no, if you want to keep within the law (which we all should do) you can't use other people's music and images without express permission.

I always find it helps to soften this with advice on where you can find legally safe material. Here is some advice I give when the issue arises.

I hate to start another blog post with "you're privileged to be a Mac user...", but those using iLife (iMovie, Garageband, etc.) are in a good position because they can use any of Apple's own music, samples and loops legally and completely royalty-free. This even extends to broadcast use (those who listened to Adam & Joe's 6Music radio show, for example, will recognise many of the loops from their jingles and stings...).

The downside of using it is it will be overfamiliar to anyone in your audience who's ever edited with a Mac, but it's good quality music for a wide range of moods and circumstances.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons (CC) is by far the most useful and flexible resource for material that can be used legally, and for free. It's not copyright-free, but artists and content creators give permission for their material to be used, provided certain criteria are met.

Material is released under various licences, with different stipulations on its use. Usually this includes at least a credit for the creator, but other criteria may be that it cannot be used for commercial use, or it cannot be used in derivative works (the latter is important to watch for as 'derivative works' includes being used in video editing). Licences must be read carefully to ensure they are used correctly.

A good starting point for finding CC material is, which contains a wealth of information, as well as a good CC search engine. More specific sites I tend to use for music include Jamendo and CCMixter, with Freesound excellent for sound effects (searching for sound effects with a CC0 licence - meaning it can be used with no limitations - is useful as it means you don't have to go through the rigmarole of crediting every single effect you use).

Images are also easy to find, with advanced searches in Google, Flickr and Fotopedia allowing you to search only among material that you can legally use. Compfight is a good Flickr-searching tool that makes the process even easier.

It is always worth remembering to keep common sense in mind when searching for CC material, however - remember people can upload anything and give it a Creative Commons licence, without necessarily having the right to do so.

Public Domain
Some material has expired copyright and can be used legally, as it has passed into the Public Domain. Good sources include video in the Prelinger Archives, and photos in the Flickr Commons. Due to the timescales involved in copyright expiry, the material is by its nature vintage, but may be what a video-maker is looking for.

Public Domain is, however, complicated. For example, copyright expires after different lengths of time in different territories, and what may be public domain in one country may not be in another. If using Public Domain material it is wise to do your research before using it to ensure you truly have the right to do so.

Create your own or get a friend to create it for you!
It sounds obvious, but music and images you've created yourself are safe to use. When it comes to music then even if someone hasn't the  time or musical skill to do so themselves, there are plenty of unsigned bands out there, who may be more than willing for their music to be used for the price of a plug for their band at the end of the video (or a pint or two!).

It's very possible that you can create a great video that's completely legal in terms of music and images, and even some stock video, with just a bit of digging around the Internet. Above are my few tips for keeping things copyright-friendly... what other discoveries have other people made?

Pete M


  1. Sadly YouTube does not recognize the iTunes rights-free material and flags videos containing it for copyright violation.

    1. I've had exactly the same problem with iLife music on YouTube. It seems the problem is the unsophisticated nature of the YT copyright-sensor is that if someone else publishes something using the iLife music and stakes their copyright on that work, then YT actually senses that anyone using iLife music is infringing THEIR copyright.

      So there's been instances where people have perfectly legally used iLife music, but had the YT copyright notice saying their infringing someone who's, say, rapped over a Garageband loop.

      There is of course issues about whether this is always an innocent mistake, or people are copyrighting slightly-altered versions of iLife music to themselves in order to purposefully monetise from YT ads.

    2. Just to crosspost from the G+ page, I did take it contest it with YT, and they seem to have quietly removed the notice and the annoying ads from the video.

  2. Discussion on iTunes rights free material continued over on our Google+ page:

    Videos can be disputed and I think this is the route you'd have to go. Pete, do you know anything more about this one?

  3. A good link about Copyright ID fraud on YouTube is here

  4. Hi Pete,
    excellent posting and very timely. It sure is a challenge for those of us who have to juggle promoting creativity on one hand, and the needs to be compliant with copyright regulations on the other - having some sites where people can go to get CC or royalty free assets certainly does help. G

    1. Cheers Graham - if you know any more good sites other than the ones I've come across let me know.

  5. for Creative Commons Flicker photos that you can add the actual attribution to, this site is great. First search and choose your image, then you can decide the size of attribution you want to be added to the bottom of the image.

  6. i really want to become a movie editor but i don't know how to start please i really need help site to study editing and books to buy...if any one wishes to help me here is my e-mail address( THANKS

  7. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)



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