FAQ For Videos

Welcome to the section of our FAQ for video producers! If you like, watch our webinar on the topic, click through our slide deck from the presentation, or peruse our FAQ below. If you are curious about how licenses work, please visit our License Guide. For a quick introduction to licenses and using them in videos, check out our blog post, "Not All Music on FMA is Licensed for Video."





Is it possible to use music from the Free Music Archive in my video?

The short answer: it depends on the song’s license. We wish everything on FMA was available for use in video, but not everything is licensed for use in videos.

As a general rule, tracks that are licensed “No Derivatives” are not licensed for use in videos without express written permission from the artist, because syncing a track to accompany footage is considered making a “Derivative Work” or adaptation. Other licenses may be licensed for use in your video, depending on the content and distribution for your video.

The long answer: FMA artists give their permission through licenses. A license is an agreement that prescribes the terms under which a copyrighted work may be used. Just about everything in the Free Music Archive is under copyright. Many of the licenses that cover works on the Free Music Archive are Creative Commons (or “CC”) licenses, which act as an addendum to copyright, not as an exception to it. The majority of FMA artists use CC licenses as a kind of shorthand to explain the permission they want to give.


To see what license is being used for a specific song, click on the track title. Then, on the song page, look at the far right column. There you should see what license the artist has selected for their work. This indicates what type of use the artist has pre-approved. For more information about the specific license associated with a work, click on the name of the license for a fuller description at the Creative Commons website.


Depending on the license given, the work may or may not be pre-cleared for use in a video without further permission. If the license allows for use in derivative works/adaptations/videos, and you’re willing to observe the terms of the license, you should be able to use the track in your video.


Licenses that indicate “No Derivatives” explicitly prohibit adaptations of the work, including use in a video. Please contact the artist to obtain further permission before using any track marked “No Derivatives” in a video project or adaptation. This may require working out a licensing deal with the artist. If you have difficulty tracking down the artist, you may need to use a different piece of music for your project.


What is a "Derivative Work"?

The term "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?"


How can I find music to use in my video on the Free Music Archive?

There are a couple of ways to do this. One easy way is to visit our Music For Video curator page, which pre-screens FMA content and collects pieces that are musically suitable for video, and are also licensed to be used in videos (though read the licenses carefully - not everything here is licensed for ALL types of videos). Another way is to go to our Search Page and sort by license. You may also search by genre or whether or not a song is instrumental.


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:


Music: "Tra-la-la" by Podington Bear

From the Free Music Archive


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 in the style of a music video or credits for a motion picture. If you cannot give this type of attribution or do not want to, you must ask the artist for further permission.


How can I apply a Creative Commons license to my video (especially if this is required by a ShareAlike license)?

Creative Commons licenses are super easy to add to your own work - that’s why so many artists are already doing it. Visit https://creativecommons.org/choose/ and fill in the fields. Then you’ll get an embeddable bit of code that will let everyone know how you have licensed the work and what you’re comfortable with others doing with it. If you can’t embed the code, please refer to the license in an obvious, easy-to-find place.


In cases where you use a “ShareAlike” song and haven’t asked the artist if you can use it another way, you must apply an identical Creative Commons license to your derivative work (in this case, your video).


To indicate how you’ve licensed your video, you may want to put this information in the credits and/or description online and in the liner notes of your release. On YouTube, there’s only a CC-BY option if you want to let users know you’ve licensed a work in a particular way (so it’s probably best to list it as All Rights Reserved if you are sharing it under any other license and clearly note your license choice, so that users don’t get confused). On Vimeo, you can choose any CC license to go along with the video, which may make it clearer for anyone who wants to view, share, or remix your work.


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.


How can I search for songs by duration?

There’s a tool for that on the left side of the search page. Choose the range you’re looking for and click away! You can also search by duration with a specific license if you choose.


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 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 don’t want to give attribution/credit in my video. What can I do?

Well, since most of our licenses require attribution, this is tricky. You have at least two options: you can try to use a public domain track (but that can be tricky, in itself, for a variety of reasons) or you can work out a licensing deal with the artist. To find contact info for an artist, check out their profile page or do a web search. Sometimes you can also find songs on Jamendo, which offers licenses for the CC music on its site.


I'm not sure about whether I have permission to make a certain use of a track. Who should I contact?

As a general matter, checking with the artist or curator is a good idea. Creative Commons and the FMA can't give you definitive answers about particular cases, and they can’t modify or alter license terms. Creative Commons simply makes available a group of pre-written licenses, and they don’t know anything about the specific works that use CC licenses. Similarly, the FMA only knows what the curators and artists tell us, and encourage users to connect with artists and labels to get specific answers about intended usage, licensing and more.


I used Creative Commons music in my video, but it was flagged by YouTube's Content ID system. What now?

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.


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.


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, so FMA cannot 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 warning 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, which are all listed on the Creative Commons License page.



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.



Special thanks to Elliot Harmon for his assistance with the webinar, slide deck and this FAQ.