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Thread: Using copyright music in a short film

  1. #1

    Question Using copyright music in a short film

    Hi there

    Just wondering if anyone can help me out with this two part query. First though a little background. I'm writing a screenplay for a short film which essentially was inspired by a song and it would really help the film if this song could be played out at the end of the film. This is how I have it in my head and I would love if this was possible for a micro-budget short.

    So my first question is, what exactly is the situation with using a studio recording from a signed artist for a short film? How would one go about using a song in a film while ensuring that they won't be hunted down by an elite team of uber-violent copyright lawyers from Universal and the like?

    Second question is, if there are huge costs to this, I would considering doing a cover of the same song with a new singer and arrangement. Are the costs less when you go about it this way?

    Any help is really appreciated and I'm really glad this forum is here for people like me.


  2. #2
    Writer / Director
    Dublin City
    Jason Butler's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
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    For a recorded song there are two sets of rights the songwriters and the performers. You would need to pay for rights for both of these if you wanted to include the song in your film. Sometimes the original artist can't give you permission to use the song as the record company / publishing company own the copyrights.

    You could contact IMRO / MCPS and ask about the cost for using the song in your film. It'll be expensive probably even if you use your own recording. You pay more for wider release rights. Problem though if you buy limited rights and then your film is a success, it may cost a lot more for the rights you need to screen your film.

    For example - you pay for rights for screening at Irish film festival then RTÉ want to show the film but can't because you haven't got the necessary music release, the cost of which is more than RTÉ are paying to screen your film.

    Short answer: You're better off not putting the song in your film. Instead work with a composer or use music from unsigned or independent artists.

    But there's no harm in finding out how much it'll cost first. Certain artists like Moby license their music for free for "non-commercial or non-profit film, video, or shorts".

  3. #3


    Thanks Jason! That was fast! I'm going to get on to IMRO and see what kind of prices one would be looking at. I've placed a pillow on my desktop so it wont hurt so much when my jaw hits it.

  4. #4


    Ditto what Jason said. I had a similar dilemma with my first short, was kinda in a way but not really inspired by a song from a well established band. I wanted to use the song for the end credits. I made the mistake of actually putting the song on the end credits while I was doing the edit, which depressed me as I knew I couldn't use it. In the end I went with local unsigned bands and I think it worked better. One of the main compliments I have got about that short is how people liked the soundtrack. Have a listen around and you'll find an alternative.

  5. #5


    Yeah I know what you mean. I am expecting to not be able to use the song I want. Although it's a shame because this is the song that inspired the film and was the real driving force for me when I was (and still am) writing it.

    I've done my own scores for shorts before and I'll probably do it again here. I'll do my best to capture the sentiment of the original song i wanted, without mimicking it or anything.

    Thanks for the feedback

  6. #6


    You can enquire about just the songwriting rights and then have another band or group of musicians perform the song. Can be a lot cheaper as it's the performance rights that'll kill ya. That said, sometimes approaching an artist's manager with a copy of your short can work too. I sent my first short to Tori Amos and it turned out her Dad was her manager. She loved it and gave me permission to use one of her tracks but it all depends on who owns the rights. MCPS are very helpful in this regard.
    David Lawless
    Twitter: davidlawless

  7. #7


    Hi I didn’t want to create new topic.
    Customer ask me to place one of this songs on website advertise - the Dubliners song for Ireland or fureys the coolin.
    Is the situation is similar I need to contact with anyone have idea about approximate price...

    corporate video production, music clips, and all that kind
    cs4, cs5.5, cs6

  8. #8


    From what I understand, the major recording labels usually own the rights to a particular recording of a song rather than the song itself (though it can vary). Sometimes musicians have been known to re-record one of their songs for a film since they owned the rights to the song itself but not to their album version. If the song you want is older, it may be worth check out whether the copyright has expired as well. A useful site for checking the copyright status of songs is, though intended for the States.
    Hope that is helpful.
    Last edited by jason.m.silverman; 3rd May 2011 at 01:45. Reason: typo
    Our Thoughts are Traitors
    They cause us to lose the good we oft might win
    By fearing to attempt

  9. #9


    I specialise in this sort of thing - I was the synchronisation licencing manager at MCPS in a former life, I've now gone back to being a musician / artist manager but still clear music to avoid complete financial ruin. Every situation is different and it can sometimes be worth giving it a shot. One of the main problems is where the music publishers and/or record labels just don't bother to reply because they see the amount of money on offer as insignificant. With indie artists the situation can be very different and there is great music all around us which can be licenced at sensible prices. PM me on here if you have any specific queries. I don't bite and I don't charge a fortune because I know you don't have it - I've yet to see an exec from Fox or Warners on FmN


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