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How to choose music for your digital content

2-minute read

A disclaimer that I do not get paid for any of the links posted on this blog.

If you are a Youtuber or you create blogs, or you are an up and coming movie producer seeking to make awesome, quality content…Or, maybe you simply need some honest to goodness good music for content you are putting out there, you may have run into some snafus in trying to figure out which music is ‘safe’ to use without getting into trouble the music police, sirens blaring that you have just used someone’s music without permission.

Using music in your Youtube or digital content or story can go a long way for quality. Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

While platforms like Youtube offer royalty-free music, you may have other platforms where you want to create content before uploading to Youtube. Or you may be creating content anywhere else, for that matter. Therefore, you will need more options besides the music offered by Youtube to make your stuff complete with cool sounds.

If you are anything like me, you may probably begin a wild hunt through the internet at this point, searching for websites that offer ‘royalty free’ music. Indeed, there are very good sites out there that could provide some good music for your content.

Sadly, there are several posts and advice available as well that talk about how to ‘avoid copyright’ or ‘make copyright music into non-copyright music’ or ‘how to bypass being caught if you use someone’s music without permission‘…and so on. If you are still reading this blog at this point, read the next letters: AVOID ANY AND ALL ADVICE THAT IS RECOMMENDING THE VIOLATION OF SOMEONE ELSE’S COPYRIGHT OR CONTENT RIGHTS. It is going to cost you in the long run, so what is the point of going through the highway that only leads to you-know-where? It will be hell for your pocket, and potentially, your reputation as well. Keep your reputation clean because you will need it if you are planning to make it to the big leagues of content creating!

Copyright theft could be the death of a good content creation career. Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Therefore: How do you use music for your content and ensure that it is not infringing on anyone’s copyright? I always recommend 2 ways:

  1. Subscribe to a good stock music provider: There are various options of royalty-free music providers, like Epidemic Sound, Shutterstock, or Premium Beat. The benefit of a subscription service is that you know you have paid for the content you are using, and especially, it is usually understood that you are purchasing the music not just for private, home use, but in creating content for public, commercial consumption, like a video to advertise your business.
  2. Use public domain music: This is my personal favorite choice. Thanks to the Oxford dictionary, the definition that I find to be one of the simplest for public domain is: the state of belonging or being available to the public as a whole, and therefore not subject to copyright. In other words, if you stumble across a piece of music that is in the public domain, it means that the music does not,or no longer belongs to anyone.

In order for a piece of music to ‘no longer belong to anyone’ so that anybody can use it freely, one out of four things would have happened to that piece of music:

  • The copyright on the music expired
  • The owner of the copyright did not register it properly
  • The owner of the copyright dedicated the work to the public, and gave up their rights
  • The work could not be protected by copyright in the first place

In many cases, #1 is what happens to the music piece – The copyright expired. This usually occurs 70 years after the work’s creator dies. If it was corporate copyright, it expires 90 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation.

You are probably thinking: If it is public domain music that was made at least 70 years ago before it became ‘free for all to use’, does that not mean it is old music?

The answer: No.

Public domain music is not always old music. Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Remember the 4 reasons I mentioned earlier about how music gets into the public domain? One of the reasons that a piece of music is in the public domain is that the owner of the music, who may very much still alive, has decided to ‘dedicate’ the song to the public for use. There are artists who decide to do this with their music. You can find some of these dedicated public domain music at Envato Elements. Another reason: The music could not be copyrighted. And yet another reason: the music was not properly copyrighted.

In any of these 4 scenarios, you could potentially have fairly recent music that is floating in the public domain.

Without bugging you down on these details about years or duration or expiration of copyrights (this can be a topic for another blog), the simple message here is that, when copyright expires, or there is no longer a copyright on a piece of work that was created, it has now ‘entered the public domain’ – and guess what? You can use it however you please.

Therefore, if you are looking for some good old blues music to accompany that new video ad you are creating, you may want to check out the public domain record for some beautiful vibes in that genre. To start you off on your search for public domain music, check out sites like PDinfo.com, Free Music Archive (FMA) or Musopen.

Have fun creating vibrant content with the peace of mind that you are not infringing on anyone’s music copyright!

Do you have a good or bad story to tell about a music copyright experience? Drop a line, stories are awesome!

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How world building for your story can pass a lawyer’s test

Story writing is the power to be a creator of anything you want.

Literally.

People, cities, and in fact, whole new worlds have been created through story writing.

Think of movie-stories like Avatar. Star Trek. John Carter. If you have seen any of these movies, you may have been awed by the sheer detail, the believability, the excitement of going on an adventure with the story characters into a whole new world that you could only have imagined before.

How to world build for your book or movie
How to build a world for your book or movie. Image by Angela Yuriko Smith from Pixabay

This is the key point in this blog: A whole new world that you imagined – Creating a world that you want to bring it to life in complete technicolor. Therefore, the question is: How do you build a world for your story or book in a legal way? In other words, how do you create that fantasy or believable existence for the characters of the book you are creating, and how do you do it in a way that you do not get into intellectual property trouble? The answer is pretty straightforward. Then again, not really: You want to build a world for your story or book by ensuring that you have cross-checked on world names, city names, phenomenon, and other indicators within your created world, that have not been used by someone else for their own world or story. In addition to this legal check, you also want to make your new world…well…as believable a world that is out there as can be managed.

For instance – You cannot create a story based on the Star Wars world. George Lucas already did that. You could, however, make a derivative of George Lucas’ work of the “Jedi” but it must, in its own rights, be able to stand alone as a “new” literary work or device. We will not talk about derivative works in this blog. It would be the subject of another blog, as I always like to say, in an attempt to break up these ideas in simple (hopefully), digestible content.

Again, the main of point in this blog is – You don’t want to use a world for your story that someone else is already using.

A man viewing a world. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Therefore, what are the things you can do, to ensure that you are creating a world that is uniquely yours, and not infringing on someone else’s so as to stay legal? Let us go through a few things that can be done:

1. Mix and Match: Remember that I just mentioned that we cannot use George Lucas’ world of the Jedi as our own story because…Well, that world is already taken. While you can’t use his world, you can mix and match it with other elements to make something uniquely your own. This is perfectly legal. It would be known as a derivative work. As I love to refer to the United States Copyright Office and their view of how things should be defined in the world of copyright, let us use the United States Copyright Office’s definition of ‘derivative works.’ The Office calls derivative work: a work based on or derived from one or more already existing works. Therefore, if you took a world that already existed – And you added a new city. And maybe splashed on some new, never before heard characters. And even included a new language that, hey, no one ever spoke in the old world because, maybe, a new minstrel came to town, and he was the long lost priest who is the only surviving person that speaks that language…Presto. You’ve got yourself some world-building, my friend!

2. Research:  Worldbuilding is not for the faint of heart – Or the lazy. That is, the world built that would actually be worth a damn (Consider Harry Potter). You want to research history, politics, geography, maybe even other planets and what little we know about them. You may even, highly recommended, want to cite the sources where you got the ideas from for your new world. Why is this a legal way to generate a world for your story? You are paying tribute to all those shining stars that came before you who made the world you are building possible. For instance, do you want to build a world similar to Nazi Germany with phenomenon that resembles the fighting, the spying, the holocaust? Then, in building your parallel universe, research the Nazi story, the politics, the culture, and any elements in it that you want to adopt for your new world.

Now, isn’t that clever?

Research your new world. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

3. Be illogical: This is the last thing you would expect a lawyer to tell you, no? But there you go, I just did. You will be in the safest zone of constructing the most legal, uncopied, original world, if you are as illogical as you can be with the world you are creating. Therefore, everything you know about Planet Earth, religion, the school system, geography? Throw it out the window. Make a world that has illogical elements when compared to Earth. A good example of such an illogical story that was a massive hit, in my opinion, is the movie with Kirsten Dunst, Upside Down.  Out of a high degree of respect for not creating spoilers, I will not say a word about what the movie was about, in case you have not seen it. It may not be your cup of tea, but you may get a sense of ‘illogical’ worlds creation from it.

Create a new world without the boundaries of logic. Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I will leave you with these 3 small ideas on how to make your new world ‘legal’ from a lawyer’s perspective.

Have you come up with an idea of building a world? Well – Don’t tell anyone, get a copyright on the book first! Then come and share the juicy details here. I am looking forward to reading your bestseller – Or watching your video, which, who knows, could become a blockbuster.

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How to commit e-book copyright infringement

I don’t want anyone to commit e-book copyright infringement.

However, there may be acts that you are probably doing that qualify as infringement and could get you into trouble. I am most delighted to talk about these problematic acts because…Well, I’m a lawyer and it’s my job.

Let’s talk about e-books: They are those publications that you may see available on Kindle or E-Pub…Or any other digital channel.

Copyright logo
Copyright logo to recognize a registered work. Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

First and foremost, are e-books recognized as material that can be copyrighted ?

Heck, yes.

In quoting the U.S. Copyright Office verbatim, copyright law is “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

In other words, I recite this to myself by saying: Copyright law protects anything you write or create that has not been written or created by anyone else.

A piece of work that is a copy
Is the work a copy of something else that already exists? Image by Martin Pysko from Pixabay

How are e-books protected by copyright, you may ask?

E-books can be protected by copyright by registering them as ‘literary devices’ with the U.S. Copyright Office because they qualify as “other digital contents’. The Office allows copyrighting of ‘other digital content.’

There are extremely large numbers of e-books out in cyber-space today. You may be a writer who has written an e-novel, or an e-education book, or some other type of writing in digital format. You want to be aware of the things not to do that would keep you from receiving a letter like this in the mail:

“It has been determined that you are currently using XYZ work without prior authorization. If you do not cease using the work, a lawsuit will be commenced against you.”

Cease and Desist to Stop Copyright Infringement. Image by TPHeinz from Pixabay

It is not fun to receive cease and desist letters – Especially when you are just about to sit down to a quiet breakfast with your newspaper, and originally planning to enjoy a most uneventful day – Then the letter came.

Let’s see what we can do to prevent such events from happening, shall we?

Copyright infringement can occur in a number of ways where you may not have been aware that you were infringing on someone else’s copyright. You thought you had all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted to be legit.

3 of the hidden ways that one could commit infringement are:

  • Using images in your electronic e-book and did not verify if they are royalty free:

There are several sites that offer royalty-free photos for use, even for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, one could fall into the unintended hole of using a photo that is copyrighted in an e-book.

I would encourage you to do a diligent search for sites that explicitly offer free photos and indicate that no recognition or mention of the author is needed if you use the photo. I would recommend that you mention/acknowledge the creator of the photo, though, if their information is provided.

  • You implemented a “Common Man’s Copyright” for your book:

This is what is known as the “poor man’s” copyright. An individual mails, or in this case, perhaps emails, a copy of the electronic book to themselves, maybe in PDF format, to show the date stamp on the email as proof to the world that the book had existed since that day of mail. As the U.S. Copyright office unequivocally puts it: “The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

Enough said.

  • You used a word or term that has been registered by another author:

It has become more common that authors take out intellectual property protection on terms or phrases, or even on words. (In this case, the protection would be a trademark). It is clearly difficult to find out in advance whether someone has IP protection on a word or phrase. The good news is that to have IP protection on words or phrases, that word or phrase has to meet certain criteria before intellectual property law can protect it. This is a different topic for a different blog.

The best bet when trying to ‘own’ a word or phrase as your own, is to engage the services of an intellectual property lawyer to support you.

Have you experienced any “oops” scenarios mentioned above with your digital content? If so, share how you made out and what you are doing to prevent such issues from arising again!