While there’s technically no such thing as a YouTube music license, that doesn’t mean you can upload any song recording you like. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s illegal to play a personal Spotify account in a store or use the radio as an on-hold message. Likewise, it’s illegal to use unlicensed music on YouTube.

If you upload the wrong type of track, you risk getting the audio removed from your video content. Even worse — your entire YouTube channel could get taken in the event of repeat offenses. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of licensing and explain how YouTube’s copyright system works.

What Is Music Licensing?

Music licensing has been around since long before the internet because a song is essentially a product. Licenses grant people permission to use specific pieces of music to ensure the creators and distributors get paid. All license agreements describe how you can use that track in detail. They tend to also focus on how long you have the rights to using it and the different mediums you can use it for.

Since the digitization of music and introduction of User Generated Content Platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, music licenses are more complicated. For instance, you might have the rights to play a song live to the public, but that doesn’t mean you can broadcast a recording. Furthermore, you’d need a totally separate license to include the song in a YouTube video. If it all sounds extraordinarily complicated, that’s because it is!

Do I Need a YouTube Music License?

Music is essential for video content. As we’ve discussed, there’s technically no such thing as a YouTube music license. However, all music you use on YouTube must have the correct permissions from the relevant parties. The person or people who wrote the song have the rights to the intellectual copyright. Whoever recorded the music has the rights to the physical recording, and the distributor can issue various types of licenses related to different uses.

There are three main licenses that you need for YouTube, although certain content creators might require additional ones. You need a master license and a mechanical license for an audio-only piece of content and a synchronization license for video. Music licenses are usually obtained directly from the copyright owner, which can be a long and arduous process.

Types of Music Licenses

At its most basic, there are two specific types of licenses that dictate when you can use the work.

  • Limited term licenses: In one of these, a specific period of time is outlined that defines how long you can use it for.
  • Royalties: These are paid based on a single sale or play of a track and don’t stretch across a period of time.

All budding YouTube content creators need to learn these licensing considerations to avoid getting into trouble.

  • Master rights: No matter how you use a recording of a song that’s written and performed by someone else, you’ll need one of these. Artists or record labels tend to own the rights to specific recordings, and permission is granted through a master license.
  • Broadcast license: Broadcast licenses let people broadcast a work via a specific medium such as TV or radio.
  • Mechanical license: Whenever you require a master license for an audio-only product like a CD or streaming service, you need one of these. While a master license pays the artist and label for their intellectual copyright, the mechanical license pays the owner of the copyrighted composition.
  • Synchronization license: A synchronization license is a must-have for YouTube content creators who want to add songs to their videos. In addition to a master license that covers the artist and record label, the sync license pays the publisher or composer.
  • Single use license: A single-use license lets the holder use the song once only in a predefined manner.
  • Public performance license: If you want to perform a piece of music in public, you’ll need one of these. These licenses also permit use of the song for TV and radio.
  • Composition rights: The composition is the lyrics and musical notes that define any song. These are usually owned by the composer of the track or their publisher. Permission is obtained via a sync license for videos and a mechanical license for audio-only.

Creative Commons Music License

Creative Commons licensing further complicates matters. This type of license is usually granted by an artist or record label that wants people to share the track. If a song gains traction by finding its way into lots of videos, it’s essentially free marketing. However, the terms of these types of music licenses are subject to change at the artist’s whim. This type of license is very specific about how music can be used and artists must be credited.

YouTube’s Content ID uses a similar premise in that it lets creators use music for no cost. However, these types of licenses are highly volatile. If the owner of the rights changes their mind, you risk getting the audio removed from the videos. If you have multiple YouTube vids with CC or Content ID tracks, you’ll spend a significant portion of your time taking down videos, changing the music and re-uploading them. This isn’t just time-consuming, but it’s also bad for your brand identity.

Why Is It So Important to Use Licensed Music?

Licensed music has better sound quality and it’s more appealing to your YouTube audience. Most importantly, it’s the only legit way to ensure everyone who has contributed to creating that track gets paid fairly for it. While there isn’t a YouTube music license, there are a lot of hoops to jump through just to use a single song.

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