Wedding Photographers: Be Careful When Using Copyrighted Music

Wedding photographer Joe Simon learned about copyright the hard way recently after his video of Tony Romo’s wedding went viral on YouTube. He had used the song “Fix You” by Coldplay without permission, and was forced to take down the video and pay a settlement to avoid a costly lawsuit. David Walker of Photo District News has an illuminating article on the issue:

“It’s nearly impossible and I’ve never heard of a wedding photographer successfully being able to license a mainstream song for synchronized use,” [wedding photographer David Jay] says. “I’ve spent a long time trying to make it possible. Photographers want to pay a reasonable fee to use the music so when they can’t they’ll just do it anyway.”

The problem, Jay explains, is that you have to get a license from three or four different people, including the lyricist, the composer, and the recording artist and/or their record company. While rights licensing organizations such as ASCAP and BMI make it easy to license music for broadcast, they don’t offer synchronization licenses for “small” users like wedding photographers.

Wedding Photographers Face the (Copyrighted) Music [PDN]

Image credit: Music Note Bokeh by all that improbable blue

  • No.1 ( no one)

    I made my own music. :D

  • Dmitri

    You can get good free music from a lot of sources online. For one, select whatever suits you from and contact d to get written permission.

  • hemailo

    I think the whole point Dmitri was to use music that the people who were paying for the wedding would have liked. The people at the wedding being those who listened to music that isn’t licenses free; or something he made on his own. Neither of those guaranteed him a good way of presenting his material. Doesn’t really make me wonder anymore that commercials, or other presentations have such shitty material. Only reason marketing pays these is b/c that 5 second hook is all they need. 

  • Intermanaut

    To be honest, the photographer is an idiot.  As a photographer he must have been aware of copyright law, and, no doubt, protects his copyrights equally stringently.

  • semi

    Ok, I work in the music business, and this article is unclear.  Let’s see if we can do better.

    Almost all song recordings have split ownership:

    The actual master recording copyright (known as the ‘mechanical’ rights) are usually owned by the record company.

    The publishing rights (melody and lyrics) are usually owned by a music publishing company.

    These two ownership companies maybe completely different and not related, or they both could be parts of the same company.

    Sometimes several publishing companies split the ownership of the melody and lyrics rights. This can happen when more than one songwriter is involved in the creation of a song, and each songwriter is represented by a different publishing company.

    For normal (just music, no video) licensing of songs (iTunes, etc.)  statutory rates have been established so that there is fixed cost for publishing rights, which is about 10 cents a song. 

    However there is NO statutory rate for the use of songs for sync purposes, such as use in commercials, weddings, or any other use where the song synchronized to video content.  It’s almost always a negotiation.

    If you want to use a song in a video for commercial (e.g monetary) use, you will have to license the rights from both the record company and the publisher.  Neither is under any obligation to accommodate you, but if the song use represents a significant sum of money (such as a TV commercial) both will gladly try to work with you.  Ultimately, depending on artist and composer contracts, you may be turned down, or you might not be able to negotiate a sufficient fee for the use.

    For the use of songs in weddings, the economics are much too small for  either publishing or record companies to devote resources.  Sorry, but they have very few people and those people spend their time trying to make real money for the company.

    Where the wedding photographer (above) got into trouble was putting his video on YouTube.  Suddenly he was *redistributing* copyrighted material through a mass channel.  It was essential a commercial for him (and his business) using someone else’s copyrighted material, and had nothing to do with the actual client he worked for.  That’s a big problem, and he was really stupid for doing that.

  • Anonymous

    Wedding photographers can purchase licenses for music at a reasonable rate. Two great services (I’ve used both) are Song Freedom, where you pay a monthly subscription, and Triple Scoop Music, where you pay for each song.

  • LA_Wedding_Photographer

    Wedding photographers can purchase licenses for music at a reasonable rate. Two great services (I’ve used both) are Song Freedom, where you pay a monthly subscription, and Triple Scoop Music, where you pay for each song.

  • Guest

    I understand that for the big companies, it is too much work to negotiate with each and every wedding photographer. However, why is it not possible to set up a single point of entry, where photographers can buy/licence music, let’s say on an annual basis or so, that allows the photographer to use the music together with wedding videos/slide shows etc. I’m convinced that this would also generate enough revenue for the music companies.

  • Anonymous

    There are…. Try or

    I don’t mean to sound like an ad for these 2 companies, and I’m not getting paid in any way to promote them, I’ve just used them both in my own photography business and highly recommend them.

    Triple Scoop Music let’s you buy rights to a song/songs.

    Song Freedom is subscription based and you pay a monthly fee.

    IMO Song Freedom has more “popular” music on it but I haven’t looked at Triple Scoop’s newer songs.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the links. I had some quick previews, looks (sounds…) good (so far, I used royalty free music distributed by Muvee). Nonetheless I miss a portal where “popular” songs (including the latest hits) can be licenced easily, because often couples wish that “their” song is included. Personally I don’t use unlicensed music (and I try to tell the couples why), however many photographers unfortunately do so, although those photographers on the other hands would’nt like the unlicensed use of their pictures. But that’s a different story…

  • Bruce Lim Nz

    I have question…

    I think it is a fair point that most wedding couples would want a particular song on their wedding DVD because 1) That song was played at a special moment on their wedding day 2) They obviously like the song because they chose to have it played at said special moment.

    WHAT IF…The wedding photographer said they offer a “free” slideshow DVD as part of the wedding package, on the proviso that the couple must supply the song.  Thus, could the photographer argue that 1) They have assumed the couple have legally purchased the song 2) The slideshow is for the couples own personal use, containing a song they have legally purchased for there own personal use?

    As a wedding photographer, I have never made a slideshow to music as I believe in copyright laws.

    Agree that the Photographer in this article made a mistake by putting on You Tube.

  • Nakta

    Several friends of mine purchased licenses on Jamendo for those videos, the tracks are not mainstream, but the music is good and affordable.

  • Cheryl Zylla

    Maybe the photographer should have hired live professional musicians, to perform that song at a real wedding, and arranged to videotape fhe live performance. As long as the musicians purchased fhe sheet music, and agreed in the performance contract to allow (whatever length their local union allows, think it is 10 sec) the photographer to use it in his promo materials, I believe that is realistic, win-win solution.