Music Video Makers Must Be Mindful of Copyright Risks

20 /Apr

Social media channel TIkTok has achieved phenomenal audience growth in 2020, boosting the popularity of videos and the use of music within video production in general. TikTok’s reach amongst UK adults shot from 5.4m to 12.9m between January and April 2020, according to Ofcom.

17% of people who were uploading videos to a video-sharing platform (VSP) were receiving money or gifts for doing so, and 40% were of VSP users were uploading their own content. [1]

In early 2020, TIkTok faced copyright infringement issues [2], due to users using copyright-protected music in their videos, without any permission. Since then, TikTok has signed some licensing agreements with major music labels, to create a library of music, from which App users can select, when making their videos. [3] However, TikTok receives copyright take-down notices regularly and removal of content is common. 10,625 takedown notices were received in the first half of 2020. [4]

On YouTube, there is a just as much danger of infringing musical copyright. The channel uses an automatic copyright filter named Content ID, which scans videos uploaded and compares that scanned content to copyright-holder databases, mainly containing the content of major music labels and film and TV companies. This is not a fool-proof system, however, and much copyright-protected content can slip through. Even creating a video that contains just a few bars of music from a well-known song or which takes the tune of a song but changes the lyrics entirely, can still result in a penalty or prosecution.

As the British Library points out on its website [5], creators of any form of music are legally protected by music copyright. Should you wish to use a person’s music, you need to gain specific permission, buy a licence or go through clearing. This typically means paying something and the amount paid will depend on what the piece of music is, the context in which it will be used, where (on which channel, programme or station) it will be used, how many viewers or members of the public will see it, and for how long and often, and how much of the piece of music is required. The creator of a piece of music typically holds the rights to it for 25 years from its publication date.

Copyright cases can be protracted and expensive when they reach the Courts and the risk of stepping on a copyright holder’s toes through infringement, has always been present. With the new social media emphasis on music videos, however, the risk is enhanced. As the British Library says, “There’s no doubt that UK copyright laws are often misunderstood.”

This presents real risks to any agencies who are producing videos for clients, who do not understand the way that music copyright works, or who have not bought licences or built the cost of such licences into their budgets. Infringing copyright could have huge ramifications for your design, social media or marketing agency but also for the end client’s business. It could result in prosecution or heavy fines and also potentially lead to a client suing for negligence because of the failure to handle the music element of a project correctly. Damages for any reputational damage caused to their brand, through the use of unlicensed music, could also be sought.

Buying insurance protection such as Professional Indemnity protection and Legal Expenses cover can help protect a media agency against prosecution and compensation claims. Digital and marketing agencies also sometimes require covers that other businesses may not need due to the specialist nature of what they do and the exposures faced. It can pay to talk to an insurance broker about all of these and help them offer guidance as to what is required. Knowing protection is in place can be music to the ears, if you do infringe another’s copyright.

If you need help in buying the right covers for your digital, marketing, film, broadcast or TV production agency, please get in touch.

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