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,, 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. Vickie
    August 24, 2010 at 3:13 pm —

    I’ve also been curious how some photogs’ were able to play popular tunes on their sites. Maybe, in some cases, they paid the hefty licensing fees for the songs? I, too, have some favorite songs and artists that I’d love to use as background music on my site. But, I can’t pay those kinds of fees. So, in my search for royalty-free tunes (that I actually like) I found PREMIUMBEAT.COM. I purchased a few tracks from their “acoustic styles” for about $30 a track. I’d love to know what other royalty-free music sites people use and like.

  2. August 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm —

    Through APRA/AMCOS, I pay about AUS$1000 a year for a looped music licence, which allows me to use between three and 15 music tracks (approved by them) on my site (I use three) … as long as they play in random order to stop any particular piece becoming associated with the site. A great and relatively inexpensive way to do it.

  3. August 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm —

    @Paul, Great point! There are a lot of indie artist that would be happy to grant licenses for their songs to be used on a website.

    Great questions about sites like It’s sort of a catch 22 and a bit confusing. In short, you are still responsible for obtaining rights to songs that you post on your site via player (or similar company)…. does pay royalties to ASCAP and the such but only for people to listen to music while on their site. Once you post those songs on your site even via their player, you become responsible to obtain the rights to do so. I know it’s not clear at all and pretty confusing. I do, however, have a call out to ASCAP and a music attorney to clarify.

    Animoto has a library of songs that you can use that already has the copyrights licensed for their users (you). You can use one of those songs or you will have to obtain the rights to use a song that you bought though

  4. August 24, 2010 at 11:40 am —

    Thank you so much!!! This information is what I need.

  5. August 24, 2010 at 11:14 am —

    Another idea that I think is worth mentioning is to check out the local music scene in your city. Even small cities have artists that are trying to get noticed. You could contact one of them and ask for permission to use their song on their web site. Then you keep the music on your site local, and likely the permission for free or very inexpensively.

  6. August 24, 2010 at 11:13 am —

    I chose to go with no music for these very reasons! How can I expect someone to respect my images and art if I don’t do the same? Creation of art comes in so many different forms, and hard work is always put in, no matter what form it takes. Great article Jodi!!!

  7. August 24, 2010 at 11:13 am —

    I am so glad this was addressed!!! Makes me angry when I find a great photog’s site and popular Pop hits are playing… or whatever… and no credit are given…. Prob because they DON’T Have Permission! Infuriates me to no end!!! Thank you for addressing this!! 🙂 XOXO

  8. August 24, 2010 at 11:11 am —

    I have the same reaction to photographers that want to use Photoshop and other software outside the license terms.

  9. August 24, 2010 at 10:52 am —

    @Lisa-I was wondering the same thing. I clicked on BMIs site and was reading through some FAQs. They have a section that says something like, “who are your licencees?” And Project Playlist ( was one of their licensees (meaning they have licenses from BMI, though I didn’t check the other sites listed). So, I think is ok to use.

  10. August 24, 2010 at 10:49 am —

    When I started my business, I specifically looked for royalty free music to use on my website. I found some music on stock20 by Daniel Rudd, and also used music from Kevin McCloud. He offers music available for download and I sent him a donation for it. As artists, we all need to set a good example and follow licensing rules for each industry.

  11. August 24, 2010 at 10:15 am —

    I use music, but it’s mainly indie and I get the artists permission first from their manageror them personally.

  12. alpha
    August 24, 2010 at 10:12 am —

    @megan…when radio stations play songs, they pay a HUGE license fee to ALL copyright holders. they dont get to play music for free, even though they are “promoting” an artist. radio stations make their money off of advertising, its the music people go to listen to, but they have to put up with the commercials because that is how the station is profitable. so, in essence the station is making money off the use of the music (its why people go to their station).

    so, if someone decides to buy a wedding package from you, and not another equally qualified photographer because YOUR site had “unforgettable” by nat king cole playing, and it happened to be their favorite romantic song… stimulating them emotionally into buying their wedding package from you, you just made money because of THAT SONG. get it?? people are unlikely to flip over to itunes or some other site to purchase a song they already know or likely have. using a copyrighted song on your site without permission or paying licensing fees is EXACTLY like someone lifting an image from your site and using it to sell their own product.

  13. August 24, 2010 at 9:50 am —

    I was just wondering if using sites like playlist dot com would be considered illegally using the music. It’s free, but I just assumed it would be legal since you can customize a player and put it on your blog or website (which I currently have). I’ll be taking it down, though, if this is not a good idea, either. Thanks for your insight!

  14. Photogmommy
    August 24, 2010 at 9:47 am —

    Is it just me, or does this place sometimes seem kind of snobby? I understand there are things that need to be said and all that, but OMG at least once every week or so there is something on here that makes me feel either offended ( I don’t even have a photography website )or turned off. I know. I know. If I don’t like it don’t come to this page, and I have deliberated that. I actually do find things on this page very helpful and I love MCP ACTIONS so I push that feeling away and think… OK it’s just me ,but then another post comes along. Especially the ones pointing the fingers and negativity at new photographers? I mean come on people. Were you guys not ALL BEGINNERS at one time? Didn’t you make I don’t understand it. Some of the poster’s act like they were born with all the photography knowledge and if they are ENTITLED to people’s business JUST because they have been in the business for a while. Heck, sometimes some of the edited works they post don’t even really look that great!!! Hmmm…. Oh well,I’ll sit back and wait for all of the pot shot and angry replies to this post, but I just had to get it out. It’s been getting me for a while now. I may read them or I may not. I’m not exactly sure I want to come back to this page anymore. Thanks Jodi for all the wonderful information and tips you provide. Your work is AMAZING!!!!

    • August 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm —

      This post was meant to educate photographers. I truly believe some try to get away with “borrowing” and others do not even know there is something wrong with it. My goal is to open up eyes, show many perspectives, and create discussion. Unless something is profanity or something, I do not sensor and I allow people to express opinions and debate. I would say not to take it personally. Part of why many come here is the very thing you are not enjoying. And yes for others it can tern them off. Unfortunately I cannot be all things to all people. But I do have a blog survey coming up soon, so when that is up, make sure to voice your thoughts.

  15. Megan
    August 24, 2010 at 9:36 am —

    I totally agree with the article- but one BIG difference that makes it difficult to compare a musician’s work with a photographer’s is that if someone gives song credit on their site, or even if they don’t- because people can do a quick internet search of the lyrics and find it online -and if someone likes it, they can purchase it on Amazon or iTunes in about 2 minutes and bam- the artist has made something. A photographer will almost never have the chance to earn income from someone outside their area seeing their work. I agree it’s got to be frustrating for some artists if they hear their work helping promote a product without their knowledge or permission, but, then again- the essence of having music on the radio, the internet, etc, is to get heard, have people say, “What’s that song??!” and go find out who it is.

    I totally get the point of the article and think it’s true, but, it’s just not a straight up clean comparison to someone stealing my work for their own use on their website, etc. All of this is sort of just the trade off we make for the miracle of the Internet.

  16. August 24, 2010 at 9:21 am —

    Yes! Thank you for this. All artists deserve to have their work respected and paid for.

  17. amy
    August 24, 2010 at 9:20 am —

    Thank you! It irks me so much when I see photographers doing this!!

  18. August 24, 2010 at 9:20 am —

    Thank you for this info. I have wanted to use some popular songs but did not know HOW to obtain the permission to use these song on my site. So my site sits silent. Thank you for providing the information on how to do it right!

  19. August 24, 2010 at 9:17 am —

    AMEN! I know I may be in the minority here, but I always mute my computer when I check out photographer blogs or sites. Music on blogs irritates me, anyway.

  20. August 24, 2010 at 9:10 am —

    AMEN! This drives me nuts!

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How Photographers Can Respect Music Copyrights and Licensing Fees