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How Photographers Can Respect Music Copyrights and Licensing Fees

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How Photographers Can Respect Music Copyrights and Licensing Fees

How Photographers Can Respect Music Copyrights and Licensing Fees

What if you stumbled upon a website when you were surfing the web and there was an amazing image of a beautiful little girl. It happens to be that the website is selling a service. But you look closer and you discover it is YOUR picture! Stop the presses! What? You didn’t give anyone permission to use that image. Why is it on a business website? Why is your perfect picture of an angelic little girl promoting a home cleaning company? You immediately write to the owner of the company and demand an explanation and removal of the image off the site. The company owner suggests, “I just love the image! It’s beautiful and it complements my service so well. I thought I’d be helping promote your photography skills… (By putting up your image without permission nor a link to your website).”

Totally irritating, isn’t it? Oh yeah… and illegal! But it’s ok to use a popular song on your website without paying a license fee? You are just promoting that song and the artist and they should be happy to have their song getting exposure. Right?

It amazes me how many professional photographers are using songs on their websites without paying the proper license fees. Either the photographers don’t realize there are laws about using music or they are trying to get away with something; hoping not to get caught, or they think the musician should be happy to get free exposure on their website. What ever your argument is, it’s illegal.

Perhaps you truly didn’t know that the music you use on your website, slide-shows, blogs, etc. needs to be licensed. Your website is only promoted in one part of the country. Surely no one from the record company/the musician/the Musical Society will care that you are using an unlicensed song. But here is the deal. Record companies are finding out that people, just like you, are using music that belongs to them. Bars and restaurants are being fined for not paying their license fees to ASCAP and small business owners are being ordered to remove the music or face being sued. BMI, ASCAP and the record companies have interns surfing the web, youtube.com, bars and every other place you can think of to you find you. Then fine you.

So what can you do to stay out of trouble? You have a few options. If there is a particular song of you just love and must have, you can pay a “New Media/Internet” license fee to BMI, ASCAP or the Harry Fox Agency. These companies oversee their clients’ (the writers and performers) licenses and copyrights to their songs. The other option you have is to license music from a company such as Triple Scoop Music. They offer very affordable usage fees on songs for your purpose. You can also commission musicians to custom write/record a song for your particular use. This option is similar to Triple Scoop however you would be the only person who would receive a license for that song.

It’s not fun when someone uses your work without permission or paying for it. It is important to be respectful of other artist as well. Please make sure you get permission to use the music. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into writing and recording that song. The writers and performers need to be respected just as you are when you capture your beautiful images.

Michelle Tanner is a lifestyle photographer from Minneapolis. She is also a musician. Her husband, Patrik Tanner, is a singer/songwriter and together they own a recording studio. They also have a rockin’ two year old son. Patrik wrote and recorded custom songs for Michelle’s website and blog.

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  1. August 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm —

    Hi @ Photogmommy, I do apologize if I have offended you. I was trying to compile a list of resources and reasons behind making sure someone has the right copyright to a song. I was definitely not trying to point fingers or bring negativity to new photographers. But rather, explain why it is important to have licenses. (Half our family income comes from making music so it hits home.) I sure hope you will keep coming back to MCP Actions. Jodi is a fantastic resource with her actions, comments and guest bloggers. All the best!

  2. Lisa
    August 24, 2010 at 7:46 pm —

    This is great information I can USE as I set up my new blog and site. Just because I’m new to this doesn’t mean I want to risk doing something illegal. I’d rather have no music than steal it.

  3. alpha
    August 24, 2010 at 9:44 pm —

    BMI & ASCAP are the largest companies that hold the rights to most music. if not the artist, then the writer or composer. BMI, for instance holds the rights to over 6.5 MILLION songs!!! their license fee for ONE YEAR for any display type website is approx. $350!! for me…that is well worth being able to use any song(s) i like from their repertoire. when in comparison some pay $30-$90 for ONE song that is a remake or an instrumental version of what they REALLY want.

  4. August 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm —

    Thank you for this post. Than you for promoting such high standard and HONESTY! We could all use more of that in our lives. And someday this info will come in handy for me as a newbie photographer. And you are so right and bring up a great point, do we like it when we see someone using an image that that someone didn’t get permission to use? Of course not! And they feel the same way!

  5. August 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm —

    I have no clue why in the world anybody would still be using autoplay music on their blogs/sites.
    Hello 1990’s? We want out website back :p

  6. August 25, 2010 at 7:53 pm —

    clarifying because I hit submit too soon LOL!

    EXCEPT for slideshows.
    Then? Music rocks 🙂

    I need some sleep 😉

  7. Photogmommy
    August 25, 2010 at 10:03 pm —

    Thank you Jodi for allowing my comment to post, and thank you for your response. Like I said it was just a personal feeling. I had the feeling before reading a few other posts. I don’t even have any kind of website or photography business. I wouldn’t even know how to put music on a website if I had one. I’m just a person with a camera who loves to take pictures and came here to learn some new things. There are good things here, and I really enjoy the way you process your images! It’s your blog, and you have every right to put what you want! I’m a nobody. I’m just just here as a guest! I think I’m the one who is out of place because most people here ARE professionals! You guys know what you are talking about and I don’t, but sometimes it makes me
    (cant speak for the other newbies) feel beneath the more experienced people on here. AGAIN, it’s just me. I was just wondering if anybody felt the same way so I asked. Sorry, that’s just how I am. Oh, and for the record… I HATE music playing in the background on websites. It annoys me! I like to just concentrate on the photographs! LOL
    Thanks again! Have a great day!

  8. December 6, 2010 at 10:00 pm —

    I understand the argument about music artists maybe getting benefits if a person browsing the website enjoys the music and wants to buy the song on iTunes, or amazon, etc. But–the main point is, it is still not legal to not have the proper licensing and permissions.
    I have people tell me that they sit and listen to the music on my website because they love it so much. I have all the proper licensing, though. So, I’m following the legalities, AND helping the artist out. I indicate on a page on my website that I have obtained these permissions, and give the artist’s name, so that they can look her up if they want. Well if I could have helped the musician out by simply just USING her music, why do I pay for the licensing every year? … Because it’s the legal thing to do, that’s why. And, I think it’s very respectful to both the artist and the recording company.

  9. December 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm —

    Thanks for confirming what I already suspected was true!… and the appropriate resources for doing things right 🙂 Fortunately my husband is a musician, and he has agreed to arrange an old tune specifically for my site. Now if only I could get him to make good on that promise!

  10. June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am —


    Thank you so much for talking about this! I do want to point out though that there is a difference between Performance Rights, and Sync rights… BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and the rest of them collect money for performances… they kind of trick you in to believing that you can sync the song with slideshows, etc… but really, you can only play the music on the site. Now if there are photos going on in the background, but the song is on the site itself – that is still performance. BUT, if the song is actually synced to a video or slideshow, then the ASCAP license doesn’t work…

    I do appreciate ASCAP (and others) making these performance licenses available, I just think they should be careful about how they market them. There are thousands of photographers nationwide that think they can use all of ASCAP’s library on their “slideshows” when it actually isn’t the case.

    Thanks again for always bringing up great topics!

  11. Stella
    January 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm —

    I’m in need of some help. I want to use a song for my wedding video. My videographer gave me two sites. Pond5 and song freedom..
    however I cannot find a site to purchase the licensing rights. The song is Turning Page, by Sleeping at last.
    Can anyone help?

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How Photographers Can Respect Music Copyrights and Licensing Fees