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Graphic Design: Image and music copyright

This guide will help you find graphic design resources both in the library and on the web.


Your Woodbury Librarians are not lawyers. This information should not be substituted for professional legal advice.

Citing something does not mean you automatically have permission to use it. The 'permission' question deals with copyright. If your use is educational in nature and not monetary, you can often (but not always) be safe under 'Fair Use.' Read below for more information about fair use.

Fair Use

"Fair use" is written into the 1976 copyright law (Title 17 section 107). It asks you to consider four main factors. If most or all of them weigh in your favor, then you are more safely on the side of "Fair use." The four factors are:

Purpose of use: (commercial or educational?)

Nature of the work used: (was it published or not? Educational or entertainment?)

Amount of the work used: (just a part of the whole thing?)

Effect of use on the market: (will this impact the creator's income?)

Factor #1 is often why student filmmakers will use copyrighted music in a class project, but can't submit that same film to film festivals.

Fair Use evaluator tool from Stanford

Music in student films

If you have a track picked out, Fair Use might cover you.
If use is non-commercial but not Fair Use, keep reading for some options.

Get alternative music: If you're looking for stock music or sound design, there are tons of websites you can use such as audiojungle or Pond5. Also consider bringing a composer/musician on board (you can find them at any local college with a music composition program).

Get a license: If you need music for commercial use, it might be time to get legal help. As a preview, there are several fees/rights that are involved:

  • Master license
  • Synchronization license (you can get them from a service like Rumblefish)
  • Public performance rights (for TV broadcast - paid by broadcaster and not you; probably won't need to worry about this).
  • (Mechanical - only for soundtracks w/ no video)

Often you need to contact a music publisher directly. To find out who the song's publisher is (and contact information), try the three Public Performance agencies: > Repertory > Music users > Repertoire search > Repertory > Repertory search