If you’re creating content for a website or a video, you may wonder how long you can play a song without running into copyright issues.
There is a very common myth and misconception among music users that limiting a piece of music to 5, 15 or 30 seconds will avoid copyright problems. However, this is not true.
As a general rule, you cannot use copyrighted music without permission, regardless of the length of music used. Any use of copyrighted music without permission counts as copyright infringement.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where this copyright misconception came from. Perhaps it originated from the fair use copyright laws, or perhaps content creators think it is okay to use shorter pieces of music as YouTube and other online platform algorithms find it more difficult to identify music with smaller sample sizes.
Either way, you need permission regardless of music length to use music legitimately in your content.
In this article, I want to share what I have learned about using and creating music for content, covering:
- How long can a song be played without copyright?
- How long can I play a song on YouTube without copyright?
- Can I use copyrighted music if I give credit?
- How can I avoid music copyright strikes on Instagram?
- How can I legally use copyrighted music?
How Long Can A Song Be Played Without Copyright?
In simple terms, you cannot play any song without copyright permission regardless of the length of time you are playing the music for.
For example, whether you feature 5 seconds, 10 seconds, or just 30 seconds of a famous copyrighted music track in your content, if you do not have permission from the copyright holder to use that music then it is illegal.
As a general rule, you must clear music copyright permission for all projects, be they profit or non-profit projects.
Even if you are not making money and use just 5 seconds of music, you must still ensure you have the relevant permissions to use copyrighted music in your projects.
Of course, there may be exceptions for your particular content that may fall under the “fair use” act, however, you need to check that your content falls under fair use before using copyrighted music without permission.
How Long Can I Play A Song On YouTube Without Copyright?
The same rules apply to YouTube. You must have permission before using any length of a piece of copyrighted music.
YouTube uses bots as part of its Content ID system to scan hours of music on the YouTube platform.
It is these bots that can detect the music you use on YouTube and will determine if you have the correct permissions. Often these bots get it wrong, but mostly they work well in protecting the copyright rights of music creators.
Sometimes, if you use a very short piece of music, then there is not enough information in the file for these bots to positively determine which music track you have used and illegal use of music may go undetected.
This accounts for part of the reason some content creators believe that using a few seconds of a famous music track is okay. It is still illegal to use any copyrighted music without permission; YouTube bots have just not detected it.
Can I Use Copyrighted Music If I Give Credit?
Giving music credit does not exempt anyone from copyright law. You must have permission from the music copyright holder to use music as part of your own project.
It is great to share the name of the artist and song titles of the music you use. This really helps artists spread the word about their music.
Simply using music, and declaring that you do not own the music, does not exclude you from copyright infringement.
Again, you must always have permission to use music from the copyright holder in your content, unless you can claim you are exempt due to “fair use” or the music is in the public domain.
How Can I Avoid Music Copyright Strikes On Instagram?
Whether you are an influencer or just a casual user on Instagram who likes to post stories or reels, it can often be daunting when posting videos just in case you breach music copyright regulations.
In 2020, Instagram began sending a notification to users via a pop-up if they were breaching music copyright laws, warning that they would take down their posts.
Before posting and using someone else’s music, you should know your rights or have permission from the musician to use that particular music. This is to avoid breaking the music copyright law.
Instagram reiterates its policies around using music in stories, live videos, and when posting live music performances on your main feed, and if you want to dig deeper into their music policies, you can find them here. [source]
In a nutshell, if you use copyrighted songs, you may get an Instagram copyright strike. There is no truly safe way around this. You need to have permission to use music to avoid a copyright strike.
Many people believe that if they use a shorter amount of music, they will avoid a copyright strike. For example, less than 30 seconds, however, there is no “minimum amount of time” that you can use copyrighted music legally without permission.
Most songs you use for a couple are seconds will not be flagged, however, this is because the music detection software may not have picked up the music in that short time.
How Can I Legally Use Copyrighted Music?
There are a few ways that you can legally use copyrighted music in your content.
One option is to negotiate a licensing agreement with the copyright holder if there is a specific piece of music that you love and want to use. This allows you to use the song for commercial purposes after paying a set fee.
Alternatively, you may use a copyrighted song under the fair use exemption if it is being used for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, or another limited purpose. If you are unsure whether your use of a song falls under fair use, it is best to consult an attorney or other legal expert as this can be a very grey area.
In order to use music in content without violating copyright laws, avoiding any potential legal issues means getting permission from the copyright holder before using any portion of their work.
However, there may also be certain circumstances where using copyrighted material without permission could still fall under “fair use” exceptions; courts will evaluate these on a case-by-case basis, so it’s wise to err on the side of caution when dealing with copyrighted material online.
If in doubt, only source your music from reputable music libraries that can provide you with clearly written instructions or a music licence on how you can use their music in your content.