Frequently Asked Questions
Welcome to our General FAQ! This covers basic functions of the site, Creative Commons licenses, and a little about us.
What is the Free Music Archive?
The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of legal audio downloads founded by legendary freeform radio station WFMU. This project wouldn't be possible without our curators, who select and upload all the music you'll find here. Curators come from all over the world, and have a wide range of experience with good music. They include freeform radio stations, netlabels, artist collectives, performance spaces, and concert organizers. If the FMA were a radio station, the curators would be our awesomely obsessive DJs.
In addition to enjoying and downloading free music, site visitors can set up their own accounts, make profiles, become friends with other listeners, create and share mixes of FMA music, and write posts on a their personal blogs. Listeners can also show their appreciation to FMA artists by adding them as favorites or even "tipping" them directly through the site.
Together, our curator-driven library and our distinctly social architecture create a platform that both guides and is guided by listeners. For more on FMA's philosophy and mission, see our About page.
What do you mean by "Free Music"?
All music you'll find here is free, meaning that it is available for you to download at no cost. What else you're allowed to do with the music varies depending on the license that's associated with each track.
How can I tell which license is being used for a specific track?
First, click on the song title. This can be done from our search page, from a mix, or on the homepage.
Click track titles for more info. After you click the song title, you will find more info on the track page on the far right column.
How do Creative Commons licenses work?
Currently, there are six "CC" licenses, which allow varying degrees of use and impose varying requirements on users. To achieve this diversity of options while keeping things relatively simple, CC mixes and matches four key license terms: Attribution, NonCommercial (“NC”), NoDerivatives (“ND”), and ShareAlike (“SA”).
A brief rundown of the terms: NC allows you to use the licensed work non-commercially (which means you need additional permission from the rightsholder before using the work for commercial purposes); ND means you cannot build upon or remix the work; SA allows you to remix a work so long as you share it under the same CC license that covers the original work; and Attribution, which is currently in every CC license, requires you to give credit to the rights-holder when you use the work.
For a more detailed explanation of CC’s license terms and a summary of each individual license, click here.
How should I give attribution in my video project?
Every Creative Commons license requires giving appropriate credit; they all include, at the very least, “Attribution,” which means giving credit to the creator of the work.
This basically means you need to list the Title, Author, Source & License associated with the work (or TASL, if you are fond of acronyms). Here’s an example:
The licenses also suggest that you cite your sources in a way that is appropriate to the medium, meaning that you are encouraged to include attribution verbally if it’s in a podcast or broadcast, in the credits of a film, in the reference list of a research paper, etc. Where possible, link back to the original work, source and license to make it easier for your audience. If you cannot give attribution or do not want to, you must ask the artist for further permission.
What exactly is a "Derivative Work"?
Generally speaking, mashups and remixes are derivative works. Under Creative Commons licenses, incorporating a song into a video is a derivative work, too.
More specifically, "Derivative work" is a legal term that comes straight from the Copyright Act. Here's how the law defines it, in part:
"A 'derivative work' is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted."
For more on what is and isn't a derivative work, see the Creative Commons FAQ, "Does my use constitute a derivative work or an adaptation?"
What exactly does "NonCommercial" mean?
First of all, we are no authority on what counts as a commercial purpose, and neither are Creative Commons and their fleets of lawyers who created these terms. What matters is how the licensor and licensee interpret these things. Here's how Creative Commons explains this on their FAQ Wiki:
"CC's NonCommercial (NC) licenses prohibit uses that are 'primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.' Whether a use is commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user. In CC's experience, whether a use is permitted is usually pretty clear, and known conflicts are relatively few considering the popularity of the NC licenses. However, there will always be uses that are challenging to categorize as commercial or noncommercial. CC cannot advise you on what is and is not commercial use. If you are unsure, you should either contact the creator or rightsholder for clarification, or search for works that permit commercial uses. Please note that CC's definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term."
In many cases, this definition is easy to apply. Making a mix and giving it to your friend is a non-commercial use; making a mix and selling 100 copies of it isn't. Unfortunately, many cases aren't nearly that simple. This is particularly true online, where ad-supported blogs and other evolving revenue models have blurred the lines between NonCommercial and Commercial. When in doubt, ask the artist if they allow the type of use you have in mind.
I'm not sure about whether I have permission to make a certain use. Who should I contact?
As a general matter, checking with artist or curator is a good idea. Creative Commons and the FMA can't give you definitive answers about particular uses. Creative Commons simply makes available a group of pre-written licenses, and they generally don’t know anything about the specific works that are the subjects of CC licenses. Similarly, FMA doesn't know anything about the specific terms under which artists offer their music other than what the curators or artists tell us, which is expressed as the license displayed on a given track’s page.
How can I get in touch with FMA artists?
Some FMA artists offer their contact information here on the website. This makes is simple if you are interested in acquiring permissions beyond the scope of the license, or would like to show off your proud creations. Many artists don’t know where their works end up and are happy to see how their work has been remixed or re-used.
To look up an e-mail address, first click on their artist name. This can be done from our search page, from a mix, or on the homepage.
Then, on the artist page, look below their bio for the "Email This Artist" button.
If you don't find contact info here, then we recommend a simple Google search for the artist or label in question. We often have luck with Facebook, Bandcamp, and Twitter accounts.
Is the music I find on the FMA free of copyright restrictions?
Some is, but a lot isn't. Works that aren't subject to any copyright restrictions are said to be in the public domain, which means you're free to do pretty much whatever you want with them. Some tracks in the FMA could be in the public domain for a couple of reasons. First, it's possible that its copyright term has expired. (Generally, until 2018, only works made prior to 1923 fall into this category). Second, it's possible that the work’s rights-holders have waived all their rights.
Most recorded music, however – including much of what you'll find here – is copyrighted.
How can I search the FMA by license type?
You can search for songs that allow for remixing, use in video, and commercial use by using our search tools here. There is a panel with options to search by license on the left side of the page. We also have a large collection of mixes on our Music for Video portal here.
What's the deal with the FMA-Limited license?
There's currently a special license called the FMA-Limited license, which gives users permissions only to download a song and listen to it privately. It's the most restrictive license you'll find here. Generally (though not exclusively), you'll only find it on newly released songs from established record labels. You cannot use these songs in video projects without additional permissions from the artist or label.
I still have questions about what "NonCommercial" means. What do you recommend I read?
The Creative Commons study linked above might be particularly helpful. In September 2009, CC published the results of an extensive survey gauging how creators and users in the U.S. online population define "NonCommercial." One part of the survey presented respondents with specific uses and asked them to rate the uses on a 0-100 scale, where 0 was "definitely a noncommercial use" and 100 was "definitely a commercial use."
The study summarized the results: "[C]reators and users generally consider uses that earn users money or involve online advertising to be commercial in nature, while uses by organizations, by individuals, or for charitable purposes are less commercial (but not decidedly NonCommercial) and harder to classify overall. Qualifiers, such as whether the user is a not-for-profit organization or for cost-recovery purposes bear an impact on how they are classified - in this case, typically making the use less commercial." (CC Study, p. 73). Check out the graphs on pages 57 – 66 of the study for some more information.
So, for example, for all the specific uses that involved direct sales or ad-supported websites, the average rating was above 50 among both creators and users. But within those categories, ratings varied. Creators gave an average rating of 85 to a work used on a webpage supported by ads where the user profits from the ads, but an average rating of 75 where the user's profits were used solely to cover hosting costs.
It might seem backward to figure out the meaning of a contractual term by looking at the opinions of online creators and users, but it actually makes some sense, both for you as a user and for Creative Commons as an organization. After all, it's online creators and users like the ones surveyed that actually adopt and operate under CC licenses.
As you can tell, there is not bright line to draw between commercial and noncommercial, and you shouldn't take the information you find above as formal legal advice.
Can I use this music for my internet radio station/gym/hold music/etc?
The music you can use depends on a lot of things. Here are just a few questions that come to mind.
1) Is your intended use commercial in nature? Does advertising revenue factor into your project/business, or are you promoting a product? If so, you can only use Creative Commons music that allows for commercial use.
2) How will you give the artists credit? Will you announce the artists’ names and the titles of their songs somehow? All CC music requires attribution in a manner appropriate to the medium (eg. Posting playlists on the website or giving credit in the stream).
3) Will you also use Creative Commons in your project/business? If not, then you can't use the materials on our website that say "Share-Alike" without additional permissions.
4) Will you blend, remix or modify the songs? If so, you shouldn’t use “No Derivatives” works without further permission.
When in doubt, ask. If you are unsure your use is allowed, ask the artist.
What are the differences between "International" licenses and ones for specific countries like "United States"?
All 6 Creative Commons licenses apply worldwide.
In past versions of these licenses (versions 3.0 and earlier), they would specify a country or specific jurisdiction to reflect the local nuances in laws. Both the country-specific (ported) and the international licenses are intended to be legally effective everywhere.
The latest suite of licenses (4.0) has been drafted with particular attention to the needs of international enforceability.
I used Creative Commons music in my video, but it was still flagged by YouTube's Content ID system. What now?
We're watching out for cases where artists are finding their music claimed by trolls who want to shake pennies out of YouTube's pockets. Since YouTube's Content ID prohibits indie artists from uploading and managing their own music, it makes FMA artists highly vulnerable to this possibility.
Some artists on the FMA have started using YouTube's Content ID system to protect their intellectual property. This use does not conflict with the terms of a Creative Commons license.
When an artist licenses their music using Creative Commons on the Free Music Archive, they retain their copyright, but extend permissions for you to use their copyrighted content according to the terms of the license. They still retain their copyright and the ability to make money from their music. The Free Music Archive cannot and does not license music, so we cannot change the terms of the licenses, nor can we address Content ID claims directly.
When your video is flagged, the best approach is to reach out to the artists themselves. Since artists can't manage their catalogues in YouTube's Content ID system directly, some may not even realize it's being claimed (or by whom). Some artists are happy to waive the third party rights flag for your specific video, upon seeing that you have correctly followed the terms of the license (ie, you've given credit, shared alike when necessary, followed non-commercial use guidelines, etc).
One of these artists is Dexter Britain, who has devoted an entire detailed section of his website explaining his decision to use Content ID, and how you can remove the third party claim from your video. There's more on this page of YouTube's FAQ, as well.
Why does this FAQ leave so much ambiguous? Can't you just tell me the answer?
We wish! Music copyright is one of the most complicated areas of copyright law. Creative Commons licensing is an attempt to offer permissions you don't need to ask for, as long as you follow the license terms explained here.
The FAQ provides general information about legal topics; it does not provide individual legal advice. The FMA provides this information on an “as-is” basis. Use of this FAQ does not create an attorney-client relationship between the FMA and the user, and the FMA disclaims liability for damages resulting from its use.
Didn't find the info you needed? Contact us.