View Full Version : Copyrighted Music In A Film Festival.

Spool Productions
04-25-2007, 03:28 AM

Start off with my 1st thread I have a legal question about a film festival i will be throwing this upcoming summer, if all goes as planned.

My question is am I allowed to program films that have unauthorized copyrighted music in them? Can i get in trouble for making a profit on entry fees, if there is copyrighted music within the festival's pictures?

I've been seeking for this answer without paying for it for a few weeks now. Hopefully the experience of the people on this site can help out.

By the way, the names tom.

04-25-2007, 10:57 AM
Can you get in trouble? It depends on what you mean by trouble. You won't get arrested and sent to jail. You might get an order to stop showing the movies with copyrighted music. But the chances are high no one will notice unless your festival gets a lot of notice and attention.

Bottom line, it IS illegal to show them so as the programmer you are faced with a personal dilemma - do you do something that you know is technically wrong but won't have any real repercussion? Or do you do what's technically right and risk not programing some movies?

If this is a one time festival with a small audience there really isn't any problem other than the personal one - are you okay violating the letter of the law - because the chances are small that you'll get in trouble. But if you're thinking that you would like to grow and become a festival where distributors and studios look for new filmmakers maybe you should take the high road from the start.

BTW - welcome to the boards. I'm curious about your festival. When, where, types of films you want, that kind of thing.

04-25-2007, 11:24 AM
As a festival, to protect yourself, you have to have something in writing (usually on the festival application) from each filmmaker that says all the music is cleared.

Spool Productions
04-25-2007, 02:39 PM
Its going to be a short film festival located in central jersey. At an old mill to be precise. Its pretty cool acutally, the location that is. The building is 300 years old, theres a nice lake nearby, hence the mill. Its going to be held outside, and it will be small due to the space we have out back. About 150 guest, outside projection, all shorts, any genre, coffee, pastrys, a simple festival to practice the bigger one i want to host at a school up the road. If you have any suggestions at all, please feel free as i am new to the business side of film production.

04-26-2007, 12:35 AM
Sounds great. How are you getting submissions?

steve gelder
04-26-2007, 01:13 AM
Hey, Tom!

First off, welcome to the boards - good first thread.

Second, most fests do protect themselves by asking the filmmakers to accept responsibility for clearing the rights to their own films, absolving the fests of any liability. This is usually a paragraph somewhere in the entry submission form, which the individual representing the film has to sign.

Third, as was stated, the odds of you or any individual filmmaker getting busted are slim to none. The main way people get caught not getting clearances is when they're trying to sell their film or get distribution, and at that point, you have to provide all clearances. If you don't have them, maybe beause you never did or maybe your dog ate them, you have to have E&O (Errors and Ommissions) insurance to protect the broadcast station in case the band you stole the song from hears it and wonders where their check is.

And finally, I have friends who run film festivals - I wouldn't worry about turning a huge profit from entry fees anytime soon. ;)

Good luck with the fest!

Spool Productions
04-26-2007, 09:16 AM
well thanks to everyone who answered. I got the info i've been looking for now and ready to step forward.

Hey Steve Gelder -- "I wouldn't worry about turning a huge profit from entry fees anytime soon"
I know, but any money is good money especially when your work is play and your controlling the base of your own media.

Thanks to all. I really look forward to future post here.

03-20-2008, 10:41 PM
Who is going to know? Probably nobody.
Do you have to make a representation to the people putting on the festival that you have cleared everything (ex- a check box on during the submission process)? I'm guessing that you do, in which case it might be a fraudulent representation. Not good. But again chances are nobody will ever know.

03-20-2008, 10:55 PM
1. This thread is old.
2. No one will know? When you see a film with a $1000 budget playing Nirvana and The Killers, everyone will know.

03-21-2008, 02:31 AM
Not sure why I never saw this earlier but just to set the record straight, it is never OK to use, play, broadcast, give away or sell copyrighted music ever, for any reason, without written permission for that purpose.

1. Its not fair to filmmakers who have "legal" original music
2. Its not legal

As for this comment:

"And finally, I have friends who run film festivals - I wouldn't worry about turning a huge profit from entry fees anytime soon."

Trust me, if you wanted to make money in this business I would suggest spending your time doing anything other than running a film festival. We do it for the filmmakers that we can help and share their visions with a relatively virgin audience and also to make connections in the industry. For those reasons its great, and a lot of fun.

03-21-2008, 06:19 PM
Not sure why I never saw this earlier but just to set the record straight, it is never OK to use, play, broadcast, give away or sell copyrighted music ever, for any reason, without written permission for that purpose.

1. Its not fair to filmmakers who have "legal" original music
2. Its not legal

It IS fair to filmmakers who have legal music, because those filmmakers who use legal music don't have to worry about lawsuits. Therefore, based on point #2, it's completely fair, because it's NOT legal, so filmmakers with original (legal) music have a better chance at getting their film sold (music can always be added during studio touch-ups anyway). And people who do use popular music illegally have limited options.... but why should the budget of a film (considering the cost of licensing big songs) affect the artistic development of non-profiting artists? Most of our first movies, and indeed, the first trailer for Macbeth 3000 (it was later re-scored so we could submit it to film festivals and get it played on TV, to which it did, thrice... on CBC and Razor TV) used popular music... NiN, Matt Good, the theme song of Krull: The conquerer, star wars battle music, the 60's batman theme, a re-lyicised version of the theme song for the Fresh Prince of Belair, the mortal kombat theme... all of these had been used in some of our first Shakespearian short films in class projects for high school English. We didn't have the resources to score a film with original music, and often, the music was part of the parody. Based off the reactions of our classmates, we decided to make the feature Macbeth 3000 outside of class. Where are these shorts? Well, mostly lost in time or with crappy versions floating around on the internet, but legality aside, do you really think the Foo Fighters or Metallica should get any money from someone downloading these shorts or seeing them at a small, "community" (as opposed to commercial) film festivals? Does Puff Daddy get money from the cover-charges of clubs that play his music? No. If the music and film is used commercially for thousands of dollars, sure, give the band a cut. But that's where you get into having to deal with record labels, so I'd just rather deal with one composer and use original music than dealing with 7 laywers in a courtroom. But by all means, it's not unfair to others.

In any case, Macbeth 3000 cost approximately $10,000, with more than half of that going into the "audio" budget for Harmeet's triple screen, multi-track mixing system, boom mic, portable mixer/capture device, cords, mics, programs and all the other splendor of a post production audio suite... the original score was made using that equipment and his own musical genius.... but even if we couldn't have crafted it ourselves, there's a slew of damn fine composers out there willing to work for free or low cost. So it's easy to get good music... but there are times (especially in parody) where certain music is needed for artistic purposes, and if you don't have the budget to afford big label expenses, I don't think it's a case where you shouldn't be able to use it... you just have to limit the venues of where it goes. That being said, I'm currently working on a sketch series where we make a Breakfast Club reference at the end... how am I supposed to do that WITHOUT "Don't you forget about me"? I'm going to have to do a cover and change a note here and there, unless someone can properly explain fair use to me.

Is the bandying around of copyright infringement really an issue of theft when we talk about music/movies that are so utterly proliferated through mainstream that they are DEFINING our (lacklustre) culture?
Beyonce is sold as ringtones and Mick Jagger's lips are on T-shirts everywhere... you can't shoot a scene in a public place without getting an ad for some pharmaceutical product or local divorce lawyer in the background. Hell, I can't even walk to the fucking corner store without seeing the same fucking properties that are on our television, our billboards, our tshirts, mugs, radios and movie screens. And you have however many major studios and major networks and major banks and major governments trying to keep the little guys from breaking in, because they only want the brands that represent their own goals and can make more money. They recruit talent and sign people into binding exclusive contracts in secret rooms, all hush-hush with confidential agreements, so that entertainment becomes property, can be owned, patented, produced, and distributed... and if anyone else uses that property and doesn't pay for it, they can sue. And that's a shit system. It may be how it IS, and thus, as far as legality is concerned, "correct", but you just have to digest that information and make an educated decision when putting music in a film.
While of course, I think that bands should be paid for their work, I don't like the idea of buying the rights for songs that include the administrative fees to cover the golf club entry fees for label executives... just so that I can put a song in the movie I'm going to be selling off to some other high-paid executive who'll take a bigger cut of the profit from my work because he's "in" the "system". But if you want to be IN the system, that's what you have to do- tuck your balls between your legs and make your quiet millions doing occasional PSAs for Darfur while bleeding whatever money you can get from some car dealership that is selling a car the exact same color you bought and patented the rights for. If you choose to remain outside the system, like a small film festival or short film on the internet, and it is purely for the purpose of sharing art (and getting your name out), then really, who cares?

Sorry about RANTING, but I get so pissy about how uptight and complicated this stupid economy-driven society is. But that's what you get when we're all owned by the banks.

03-21-2008, 08:27 PM
Spatula, I agree...but I want my name out there, so I follow the pieces that will affect that (normally, I just ask unsigned local bands and have a guy who loves to score stuff as a creative challenge to himself...just like the rest of YAFI...all about the personal creative challenge.

I look at film the same way I looked at music back in high school. I wrote and played only originals because I sucked too much at reproducing covers.

03-22-2008, 05:24 AM
2. No one will know? When you see a film with a $1000 budget playing Nirvana and The Killers, everyone will know.

Unless I made it, of course, and got the legal permissions by persuading a friend of a friend of a friend that it was a good idea to give me the rights for nothing... LOL

Actually, I've always thought it was semi-insane for indie film makers to illegally use mainstream music companies' artists for soundtrack material when there are ten thousand bands on Myspace looking to up their profile, hundreds of thousands of wanabee composers... and as Knightly pointed out you can get fifty albums to use as soundtrack material just by putting an A4 poster in your local music store asking bands for their songs to put on your film.

Then you've got Garage Band, Fruity Loops and for the truly ambitious, Abelton Live... mix them with some good royalty free sample CD's .. bang, instant soundtrack.

On top of that there are thousands of superb tracks on sites like ( where for $29 you can buy an orchestral track for worldwide use in any medium for perpetuity.

And... if you're really lazy, broke and need something fast, there is all the creative commons and open source audio on the internet archive (

The truth is, it's not the illegality of reaching for your record collection that bothers me, it's the laziness.

Personally, I think every film maker ought to learn how to use something like Abelton Live by making their own soundtracks... partly because it gives you independence, but mainly because when you're putting together basic soundtracks you're also learning how to edit and manipulate sound. So, when you're doing your soundtrack you'll also know how to throw your sound effects over into Abelton to edit and alter the sound.

03-22-2008, 02:38 PM
The more I think about this topic, the more I think we are almost obligated to use unsigned bands' music in our movies. As part of the underground (most of us) creative community, we should be helping to encourage and bolster one another's careers and work across the media boundaries. I've been pushing toward this in my shorts, but had never figured out quite why. Theft to point out the unfairness of the laws will actually support the law makers by giving them someone to point to and say "See, told you so!" By supporting outsiders, we are making a statement that they have to listen their pocket books...legally! These then, end up as lost possible sales to a competitor of the RIAA and the big labels...the unsigned indie bands. The exposure can only help them get their name out there.

Let's make a move to make a difference without having to get arrested to do so ;)