Can I or Can’t I?? Using music

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

The Music Usage Question

For anyone who has written articles, developed websites, wanted to utilize a quote, or insert a section of popular music into a site, nagging questions persist. When can I “go for it”, when to decide to research the law on-line or, when to decide is it worth the money, and call a lawyer!

Many may have questions on rules and regulations for imbedding background music into a website, not to make money off of the song, but simply to make the experience more fun for visitors to the site. Not surprisingly, there were various thoughts and information on this question. Creators of any words that are original, such as music, are covered by copyright protection giving the creator exclusive rights to the music. Using their copyrighted work can be an infringement and create possible legal problems.

Be aware and wise to the situation, but trying to get permission can be difficult and lead to quite a bit of “red tape.” As I further researched copyrights, I came across the site,, with an article written by Richard Stim, Attorney and Backup by Brian Farkas, Attorney, with the following opening:

*"There are no fixed standards as to how much of a song you can use without infringing the song owner's copyright.”

Further, songs typically, per the site, have two copyrights, for both:

  • the underlying song (usually owned by the artist), and

  • the recording of that song (usually owned by the recording company).

If one has concerns, write the copyright holders for permission. If they give the OK, then no problem and music is ready to be embedded. Further, the following four factors fall into consideration to establish if a song can fall under fair use.

  1. the purpose and character of the use, for example whether your project is for profit

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work, for instance, if the song is a famous Billboard hit or an academic piece of music

  3. the amount of the copyrighted work that you used in your project, and

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Review the four factors for additional information that may be helpful! You are not selling the website with the song to make a profit, you won’t be affecting any markets, viewers are not going to your website to find the song, nor would they use the site to download music.

According to Stim and Farkas, the deciding factor may be how much of the song you will be using as background music. Is it risky, of course? However, one would more than likely receive notification with a cease-and-desist letter asking you to remove the music.

One last thought…don’t sell the website! Think the purpose of the website and what is the optimal outcome for the site before you put any music in it.

This article is meant to make you aware of copyright protection and to give you a base in the event you have a situation that involves copyright law. If you are in need of copyright information, ensure your research is up to date. The law, as we know, changes quickly.


Authors: Richard Stim, Attorney at Law and Brian Farkas, Attorney at Law

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