FREE Music Licensing for Film

Nothing quite takes a film to that next level like great music. Last week GRAMMY® winning artist Moby announced the re-launch of Moby Gratis. The site will function to seamlessly license Moby’s music to independent filmmakers, student projects and non-profit film productions. Click on the video below for details from Moby himself.

This is great news for the filmmakers who fall into the categories listed above because music licensing can become complex quickly. It is not for the faint of heart. Generally, if you want to use a master recording of an artist, with the musical clout of Moby, the filmmaker would start the process of video synchronization licensing. In plain terms, this video synchronization licensing is a written contract that gives the filmmaker permission to use the song requested in the film.

Video synchronization is a process that requires the filmmaker to seek permission from at least two separate entities. First, the filmmaker must secure permission from the entity that holds the rights in the composition – think the sheet music. Usually this is a music publishing company. Second, the filmmaker must then secure permission from the entity that holds the rights in that version of the song, the actual sound recording or master recording. Usually this is the record label. Further, depending upon the contractual agreement with the artist that performed under the record label there might be more permissions that are necessary to secure.

As you can imagine, this process can become quite complicated very quickly. Most entertainment attorneys can help you with this step. In the alternative, there are some music licensing services that do a fine job of providing this service for a fee. It should be noted and advised that any agreement these music licensing companies put in place for you should also be reviewed by an entertainment attorney. Music licensing is a contract. Blame it on the day job, but I think there are nuances that attorneys may find that can possibly save you in the long-run.

Moby eliminated the process I described above by making a one-stop shop for his music. From the tweets associated with @MobyGratis , it appears that the process is quick, painless and overall extremely user-friendly. And, while Moby is being gracious with his music, users should also be gracious by being honest about their film projects when completing the forms requested.

One critique of Moby’s generous system is that on the website the term “non-profit” is not well defined. Does he mean non-profit as in the IRS tax designation given to 501(c)(3) organizations? Or, something similar to non commercial use as defined in the copyright statue under Fair Use?Being the good attorney, I always love to see terms clearly defined coupled with some examples. 🙂 Based upon his statements in the video above, maybe a better term that could have been used is “non commercial.” There is a forum where you can submit questions and review questions/answers from earlier posters. This could offer some framework for assessing your personal situation and might be a good place for you to start.

I would caution that you should check with your counsel and make sure that your film project does, in fact, fall into one of those categories. Just because your film is not going to make “too much money,” or “you are barely able to pay your bills” or “it is not going to be shown in a theater” does not necessarily mean that your film is non-profit, even though it may feel that way and look that way from the accounting book. If you are not in school and you are not creating your film project for an organization that is a true non-profit, such as the ASPCA, then seek counsel from an attorney as to whether your project is truly non-profit and fits the use granted on Moby’s site.

Was this a good move for Moby? How have you gotten music licensing in the past? Should more artist do this? Take part in the conversation in the Comments section below, and Stay Tuned In.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @RyanneDSaucier. Special thanks to filmmaker friend @ChrisBufkin for telling me to write about this important news.

7 thoughts on “FREE Music Licensing for Film

  1. Did you see the case where a mother shot a cellphone video of her small child dancing to the radio to a Prince song, and she uploaded the video to Youtube, and the rightsholders tried to do a takedown? Is there a need for licensing when it’s just “ambient” music?

    • Hi Robin. Thank you for reading! It seems in the situation you described that the music was the focus of the piece. Said another way – would the child’s dancing been as entertaining IF the child was just dancing to say a nursery rhyme? In general, video synchronization licensing is needed when music is married to video. Do you know the result of the takedown attempt? Thank you for sharing.

      • Well, the issue in that particular case was whether the DMCA takedown request was sent in bad faith. While it’s bad to steal other people’s stuff, by the same token, copyright holders can’t just willynilly send out takedown letters. Apparently, the video was very arguably fair use, and part of the DMCA says that Thou Shalt Not Send Takedowns Without Good Cause, and Universal didn’t even consider fair use. The case is still ongoing (in January 2013, the judge denied Universal’s summary judgment motions), and looks like a loser to Universal to me… but I’m not a fancy Entertainment Lawyer. 🙂

        I have used the DMCA to issue takedown requests myself against gossip/tattle websites like In those contexts, it’s somebody taking somebody elses’s facebook photos and uploading them and writing a bunch of hateful gossip. I wrote a letter to the service provider of the website, and explained how they could be held liable under DMCA for not complying with the takedown request, because i represented the person who actually took the picture. In every case, not only did they delete the photos, but tossed the article. The DMCA allows for this because going after a site like TheDirty is nearly impossible, but their upstream hosts have addresses and something to lose. 🙂 It’s fascinating business.

      • Thanks for alerting me to this case! I’ll definitely watch it. Who knows – there might be a post soon on it. Thank you for taking part in the conversation.

  2. This is an incredibly important development. Rights holders are going to figure out that “sweetening the pot” by allowing easy access for non-profits and independent filmmakers is a good approach to licensing more music in the lucrative commercial sphere. Moby is onto something. Thanks Ryanne.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! I agree it is a great platform to get your music out there. Also, for ALL creative people to work together.

  3. Pingback: Walking the Legal Tightrope in Film | Statute of RyAnne

Take part in the conversation. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s