Podcast Music Copyright Laws | Can I use a Song in my Podcast?

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At-a-Glance: Podcast Music Copyright LawsCan you use copyrighted music in your podcast?

  • It’s not impossible. But it’s complicated, and often, expensive.
  • For starters – who actually owns the song? Music ownership is complex.
  • “Fair Use” is a defence you can try to use if you get in trouble, whilst “only 7 seconds” is a bit of a myth.
  • It also doesn’t matter if you’re not making money with your show.
  • The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get great stock music for your podcast.
  • One of our favourite companies is Shutterstock, and we have an exclusive discount code for them – PODCAST15
  • There are some free podcast music options listed here, too!
  • Read on to find out more…

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It’s one of the most frequently asked questions in the medium; “Can I use copyrighted music in my podcast?”. The short answer is “No”. But, as is usually the case in podcasting, there’s a little bit of “it depends”.

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Editor’s Note

Our music copyright for podcasters guide was originally written in 2018. We update this post periodically to reflect changes in technology, our recommendations, and because we’re always learning new things!

It’s important to stress that we are not lawyers. I can advise here, based on experience and info I’ve learned over the years. But ultimately, you should work with a legal professional if you’re looking to use copyrighted music in your podcast.

We have an interview with Entertainment Lawyer Gordon Firemark on Podcraft titled Podcasting Law: Stay Legal, & Protect Your Brand. It’s well worth a listen if you want a deep dive into the ins and outs of the legal process.

Can I Play Copyrighted Music in a Podcast?

Alright, so the short answer isn’t quite “No”. It’s closer to “Don’t”.

Sure, it’s not impossible. But you’d need the permission of everyone who owns the music.

Music rights are complicated. There are things called “mechanical rights” and “performance rights”, for starters.

For example, let’s say your pal writes a song, then her friend’s band play and record the song. Then, they’re signed by a record label, and the song features on their new album.

You want to use this song on your podcast. Who do you approach? Who do you pay?

Well, I suppose the first person you’d pay would be a lawyer, to help you figure out who else needs to be paid.

Then, the owners of the song will want answers to questions like, “how many times will it be played?”, and “where will it be available?” As you can imagine, these questions are virtually impossible to answer in the case of podcasting.

Podcast Music Copyright Laws: Defence Arguments

Podcasters desperate to use a particular piece of music will come up with several reasons to show that there’s no copyright violation taking place. Some of these are legitimate, and others are quite simply myths.

I Only Want to Play Part of a Song

You’ll often hear things like “it’s alright, so long as you use 7 seconds or less”. This is a myth. If you play 5 or 6 seconds of a copyrighted song as your podcast theme song, you’re in breach of copyright.

What About “Fair Use”?

Fair use is a defence you can use if you get in trouble for playing copyrighted music in a podcast. It also seems to differ a little, depending on your country.

A fair use defence might stand up if you play a segment of a song for educational purposes, including criticism or commentary. It’s much less likely to be valid if you’re pulled up for playing copyrighted music as your podcast theme tune.

I’m Not Making Any Money With My Podcast

Music copyright laws are no different for not-for-profit podcasts and shows that don’t monetise. This one isn’t a valid defence I’m afraid.

I’ve Already Bought the Music Commercially

Another defence that’s been touted in the past is, “but I bought the CD!”.

When you buy copyrighted music commercially, you’re paying for the right to play it for your own entertainment, at home, in the car, etc. If you still own a CD, take a look at the small print on the sleeve. I guarantee there’ll be something around how you can’t play it “in public”.

Bottom line is, without an additional license, you wouldn’t be allowed to play it in a coffee shop, let alone stick it on a podcast episode.

Can Artists Give Me Permission to Use a Track?

It seems obvious that creators of music would have the final say over whether or not you can use their material.

In cases where indie artists have written, performed, recorded, and published their own music, then this holds true. However, many people have a stake in the songs you hear on radio, TV, or Spotify.

For example, a record company may own the rights to a particular recording of a song, whilst a music publisher is responsible for all recordings of that song. If you manage to sit these two down and explain to them that you’d like to play their song over 400 different podcast apps, and for an unlimited number of times, imagine what price you get quoted.

What About Copyrighted Music Recorded in the Background?

There’s an Incidental Inclusion defence for when your sound recordings pick up some music in the background. Say you’re recording an interview in a cafe or space outside a music venue, and you capture part of a song as “actuality” – you’ll likely be excused as you aren’t setting out to record it specifically for personal gain via your podcast.

That said, you can’t use that as an excuse when you play the first 20 seconds of Yellow Submarine at the beginning and end of every episode.

Can I use copyrighted music in a podcast?

Will Podcasts Playing Copyrighted Music Have Limited Audiences?

Two of the biggest places podcasts are consumed are Apple/iTunes and Spotify.

Both directories are music distribution services too. That means they are wary of anyone playing copyrighted music on a podcast on their platform.

YouTube is also a very popular platform for podcast consumption. They have good AI detection software which can swiftly flag copyrighted music in all of its content.

So whilst you might eventually get permission in one platform, you probably won’t have it in the rest. And this, ultimately, can make it difficult to grow a decent-sized audience.

Running a Music Podcast

If you want to play popular songs, DJ-style, in a radio format, then it is possible. There are just a few caveats.

This is a Spotify-only feature, which you’d create through their media hosting wing Anchor. The key here is that you’re not editing songs into your episodes; you’re presenting the links in between and then using Spotify’s library to access the music.

This means there’s no scope for talking over the start or end of a track. It probably won’t sound as smooth and quick-paced as the radio. But, if you want to create a music show like this, then it’s your best option.

This is another tricky one because it varies from country to country. 75 years after a song was published, or 70 years after the death of the artist, are two criteria we hear regularly. You should never take these as gospel. These laws can be fluid and change year upon year depending on what’s about to go out of copyright (and who currently earns from it).

Always seek advice and clarification from a legal professional, before using a song you believe has gone into the public domain.

There’s also the question of the performance and recording rights. If you find a song in the public domain that was performed and recorded by a band a few years ago, then they own the rights to that version. You couldn’t just go ahead and use it without their permission.

Let Alitu Take Care of Your Podcast Editing

Alitu is a tool that takes your recording, polishes it up, adds your music, and publishes the episode, all automatically.

Learn more about Alitu

Does Your Podcast Need Copyrighted Music to Be Good?

This is a question worth asking yourself. If your show doesn’t open with Bohemian Rhapsody or Welcome to the Jungle, will it still be good? Will your podcast really live or die on this factor?

Have you ever come across a listener review saying, “the content and conversations in this podcast are absolutely mind-blowing, but I had to unsubscribe because it’s sorely lacking in 10 seconds of intro music by Bob Dylan!” ?

Try ploughing all your effort into choosing a unique and original topic, and creating the best possible content around it. If you do that, you’ll get away with five opening seconds of a chimp farting through a kazoo as your theme music.

So How Can I Get Great Music for My Podcast?

There are loads of different ways to get quality music that’s totally legal to play on your show.

A common method is to use a subscription service. Typically, you’d make a monthly or yearly payment, and could use as much of their material as you want during that period. This is what’s known as “Royalty Free” music.

Then there are free options out there, commonly known as “Creative Commons”.

Creative Commons Licensing or Royalty Free Music Subscription Services

Our favourite Royalty Free option is Shutterstock, whose unlimited subscription includes both Music and SFX. (30,000 tracks and 8,000 Metaverse-ready immersive SFX – starting at $16.60/mo. Our exclusive discount code for them is PODCAST15

And on the Creative Commons front, Incometech is a legendary resource for online content creators.

Other options are available, though. Here are some alternative top picks for finding podcast music that’s safe and legal to use for a variety of purposes.

So, can you use copyrighted music in a podcast?

It’s not impossible, but it’ll likely be complicated, expensive, and could even limit your audience.

We’re not lawyers (again, here’s an episode of Podcraft with someone who is) but you should probably steer clear of going down this route. There are plenty of great options for finding music to play on your show.

And instead of worrying about how you can legally play the latest Taylor Swift song on your show, spend the bulk of your time, energy, and resources on creating good content, and promoting it to your target audience. That’s the stuff that’ll really move the needle, after all.

If you need more tailored help, too, then check out The Podcast Host Academy. There, you’ll find all of our courses and resources. And, you can join us in weekly live Q&A sessions too.

What Our Readers Think About Podcast Music Copyright Laws | Can I use a Song in my Podcast?

Sorry, comments are closed.

  1. Thomas says:

    What if I wanted to pay for the rights to use in my podcast? Who would I talk to?

  2. Maige says:

    Try Songfile.com

  3. Isaiah says:

    If I wanted to do a podcast showcasing hit songs with cool time signatures, or songs that have a hidden message in the lyrics, etc. – would clips of these songs be allowed? It’s semi-educational/personal observations/review.

    • Lindsay Harris Friel says:

      You’d have to get permission and pay the fee. 🙂

  4. Jeff Brittain says:

    What if the artist gave me permission? He’s a good friend of mine. How would I let the world know so that ITunes and other podcast applications let me use it?

    • Lindsay Harris Friel says:

      Put the artist in the credits. You could say “Music by (artist name),” or “(title of song) is written and performed by (artist name),” or whatever suits.

  5. Kyle K says:

    Following up on that Lindsay, if I’m interviewing the artist on my podcast and using 20 or 30 second clips from some of his/her songs throughout the podcast with their permission, is just having the artist’s permission typically all I need?

  6. Taycha says:

    What if it’s a situation where you’re at a family dinner listening to the (radio) and decide to record a podcast forgetting that the radio is playing… Would you have to scrap the podcast?

    • Lindsay Harris Friel says:

      Is the background radio so loud that it eclipses the conversation?

  7. Pablo Povarchik says:

    Can I get the rights to play a song on my podcast directly from the band? Could I have a simple agreement to be signed by the band or artist that grants me the rights to play the song on my podcast?

  8. Tanjia J says:

    Hi Lindsay! This may have been asked peripherally but i just want to make sure. A friend and I starting a crime podcast, want to use a snippet from a popular Travis Scott song to show iour subjects relevance in popular culture. Is this legal? If not, how do we go about doing this the right way?

    • Matthew McLean says:

      Hi Tanjia, it’s only legal if you have a license for both the performance and mechanical rights to a song which can be very complicated and cost a fortune. I’d recommend you look at finding podcast music that’s simple to use and won’t get you in trouble. Here’s where to find podcast music.

    • Lindsay Harris Friel says:

      I wouldn’t. It has less to do with the artist themselves, and more to do with their record company and armies of lawyers. There are so many other options for finding good music, anyway. Have a look at this article about finding music for your podcast.

  9. Jonathan says:

    OK, you mentioned reviews and educational purposes. What if my podcast is about music, with reviews and analysis? Can I use copyrighted music then?

    • Matthew Boudreau says:

      In general, yes, as long as only a portion of the music is used. To be clear, it is important to remember that fair use is a defense and not a shield against potential lawsuits. Some companies will sue whether they have a case or not in order to tie up creators in legal fees. So, it’s worth taking care to ensure you understand copyright law enough to be aware of the risks before proceeding. Creative commons has a great basic legal guide here.

  10. Hi! Great site! I’m planning a pod cast of a certain kind of music, most of which is probably copyright. No money will be made from this site, because it will be a podcast for the enjoyment of, and ‘education’ of the music. by education I don’t mean as a learning institution or non-profit, but purely to let people know this music is out there.

    Ideas on whether licensing is required? I don’t want any cease and desist stuff!

    Thanks!
    darrell a.

    • Matthew Boudreau says:

      Most U.S. courts will not accept “getting the music out there” as educational. Typically, this refers to educating students in music theory and history by using music as a supplement. In these instances, the focus of the program would be specifically about the music. Copyright law is still in effect regardless of whether money is made. Often, folks quote this as one of several criteria for fair use, and sometimes that is the case, but keep in mind that Fair Use is a defense, and not an exception to copyright law, meaning money would still be spent o lawyers and court appeals to argue that your specific case is fair use. Judges tend to judge these on a case by case basis, and as such, there is no blanket Fair Use exception under the law. Keep in mind that Disney just tried to charge a school (an educational institution) for airing one of their movies for the school’s students.

      The best rule of thumb is if you don’t own it, either buy it or ask for permission to use it. If you would like to use copyrighted music for your podcast, you or your hosting service would have to have a license through ASCAP and/or BMI, which would cover any music that you use from either licenser.

      For more info check out the Web & Mobile licensing section, here, for mor information on New Media licensing.