I came across this story the other day talking about how Warner/Chappell Music is being sued for demanding royalty payments for the usage of the song “Happy Birthday,” and it brought to mind some important misconceptions about what it means for a sound effect or stock music track to be in the public domain.
As much as I personally dislike large music publishing conglom-a-corp-a-plunderbunds because I think large companies don’t have artists’ best interests at heart, but the fact remains that the song Happy Birthday is still under copyright. Just because the song is popular and well known doesn’t make the plaintifs case that “the song should be dedicated to public use…” Under that logic, MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” should be public domain because it is both popular and well known. Not true.
With that in mind, the question both video production companies and stock music and sound effects producers alike should ask themselves when considering a piece of stock audio for purhcase or sale is “Is everything in this track legal?” Of course, if it’s 100% originally composed and produced, like most music on Productiontrax, then of course it is legal. Even though the tracks are under copyright, they’re still licensed royalty free. But, if the sound effect or music track has audio in it recorded live, you have to check it for copyrighted sounds before uploading or downloading (uploading content that contains copyrighted sounds to Productiontrax is against the terms of service).
Is there a snippet of copyrighted music in it? Not legal.
Uses sample software or sampled sounds to produce the track? Legal.
Contains a sound of a tv or radio playing a copyrighted song? Not legal.
Contains a human singing Happy Birthday? Not legal.
Contains a piano playing a Chopin Waltz? Legal.
You get the idea. The key here is to double check your work. We triple check at Productiontrax when we can to make absolutely certain that the media you find here will be 100% licensable and not get you into a legal battle with a plunderbund, but keep these tips in mind when looking for sound effects from your favorite sound effects sharing site, or from some other music library that has some hard to find stock audio clips from 1950s television. Your legal budget will thank you.