Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Singing the Book Trailer Blues

Kathryn Page Camp
Is someone singing the blues on your book trailer? Or do you have a classical pianist playing Bach's "Minuet in G Major"?
Here's the more important question: did you pay a license fee for using that music track? If not, you may be guilty of copyright infringement.
Many sound recordings have two copyrights. The first is for the composition as it is captured in sheet music, and the second is for the actual performance.
Bach never copyrighted his compositions, and they would have moved into the public domain by now, anyway. So if you use what he wrote, you don't have to worry about infringing his copyright. But if you use a more recent arrangement of Bach's work, the arranger may have copyrighted that.
Then there is the performance copyright. Whoever actually recorded the track has a separate copyright.
By now you're wondering if your book trailer must resemble a silent movie, where the theater (or the viewer) has to provide its own music.
Don't give up yet. Here are three ways you can get music for your book trailer without worrying about copyright infringement.
The most common is to find a reputable online store that sells stock music tracks and then purchase one that includes a royalty-free license. "Royalty free" doesn't mean free, but it does mean that you only pay once no matter how many people view your book trailer. As long as you use a reputable site, it also means that the seller has obtained the necessary permissions for you.
One caution, however. Read the license before you purchase. Make sure it allows commercial use and that your book trailer fits its commercial use description.
A second option is to find a recording for which both the underlying music and the performance are in the public domain. This requires a lot of time and effort to discover limited choices. And if you find the recording on a website, make sure you can trust the website operator. You don't want the copyright holder to sue you because you mistakenly thought something was in the public domain. Good faith isn't a defense.
In my opinion, this second option isn't worth the trouble, but you may feel differently.
The third option is to use sheet music you know is in the public domain and record the performance yourself. If your daughter is an accomplished pianist, persuade her to play the music for you. She may own the performance copyright in the recording, however, so make sure you have her permission to use it. 
Of course, you don't want to try this third option unless you know you will get a quality product. Or maybe a less-than-perfect performance fits the tone of your humor or children's book.
Actually, there is a fourth option: contact the copyright holder for permission. But unless you are wedded to a particular recording that isn't available as stock music, it makes more sense to go with the easier and quicker option one.
So before you start using that book trailer, make sure you have the necessary licenses and permissions for any music you include in it.
Otherwise, you may find yourself singing the book trailer blues.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court's First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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