Can I use a short music clip in a video for a nonprofit?

April 10, 2012

Dear Music Lawyer,

I wish to use 20 seconds of a Ray Charles recording for a video introduction for a nonprofit club. Is that legal?


Dear Victor,

Contrary to popular belief, you need to obtain consent from the copyright holder of the musical composition (the "Song") and the copyright holder of the recording (the "Master") to legally use even a short clip of a recording unless you can claim fair use (e.g., commenting on the chord structure of the song or instrumentation used in the recording) or the Song and the Master are no longer protected by copyright (i.e., the works are in the public domain).

The answer is the same if the clip is used by a nonprofit organization or a for profit corporation. However, a nonprofit may be more likely to get the copyright holders to agree to the use and/or agree to permit use at a lesser or no charge.

—Amy E. Mitchell is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

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