But what about copyright concerns regarding the use of music or other types of audio?
Several years ago, I was told that you could add 30 seconds of copyrighted music to your training or 10% of the total audio playtime without obtaining permission from the content owner. It turns out that that was bad information.
Copyright expert Linda Wolff Rohrbaugh states, "That myth arose from an education working group that tried to create safe harbor standards for face-to-face education. No court has adopted the standards, though apparently, the group had an excellent public relations effort because the myth spread far and wide and continues to persist."
Rohrbaugh went on to say, "Audio is not free to use. Whether with or without music, recordings are copyrightable and have the most complex maze of protection possible. Why? There are two copyrights in a sound recording … one for the author and another for the recording artist/producer. Both need to be cleared if using a recorded song or other audio piece. Plus, each copyright has different protection periods. If the author’s rights have expired, you may still need clearance for the sound recording if it is still under copyright. Failing to obtain proper permission can result in a lawsuit for up to $150,000 per song or audio clip used, even if you didn’t make any money."
Audio performance rights are held by the audio's author (also known in music as the composer or songwriter) and apply to any performance of the notes, melodies, and/or words for people other than just close friends and family. It applies whether you are making a cover song to post on social media for fun or using someone’s recorded version in your online course.
Authors may independently handle copyright release requests or may have given these rights to an agent such as a music publisher. There may be multiple copyright owners and agents, and you’ll want consent from ALL of them to be safe.
Music rights owners can be researched online using a database called SongFile.
If you want to use audio in your training legally, stick to audio from the public domain—from 1922 or earlier. The variety, especially of sound recordings, is a bit limited since sound recordings didn’t exist for too long prior to 1927. Music in the public domain can be freely reused BUT (and this is a big caveat!), if you grab a recorded version of that public domain music, you must check the date the recording was made. If it was after 1927, you will still need consent from the recording artist/label.
You could license the clip from the owner or their agent. Music libraries such as MusicBed are a great source for original music clips in various genres and lengths. Pricing is determined by how you plan to use the music. A popular source of publicly released music is Easy Song Licensing. They have pre-negotiated the rates for some music or can negotiate on your behalf to get the rights to use clips that require independent licenses.
If you have time and talent, you can create and use your own music as you see fit. Remember to put your copyright notice on the presentation because everything you record will be copyright-protected from the moment you save the file, but the notice entitles you to more money if someone borrows your work without permission.
To learn more about copyright law as it relates to training and training support materials, check out this vILT course led by Linda and Kevin Siegel.