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A discussion on legal use of music on YouTube, how to properly credit composers and publishers of music used in YouTube videos, and how performance royalties apply to YouTube, Google Video and Metacafe hosted videos.


Obtaining YouTube music from a stock music library

Many people looking for music that they can legally use in their YouTube videos, Google Videos and Metacafe video productions, will visit a library of stock music such as this one.

Through these stock music libraries, music composers and publishers sell their music tracks for a one-off simple license fee, and when purchased, their music can be safely and legally used in videos that are posted online - whether it's on your own site, your blog, or on YouTube.

These fully legal music licenses are often sold for a low price, and typically a percentage of that direct sale price will be paid to the composer. This direct payment to the composer is usually not a whole lot, so the composer will rely on an additional payment from YouTube when his music is used in a YouTube video.

The way money makes its way from YouTube to music composers

Most composers are members of so called "performance rights societies" such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS or others. The task of these societies is to oversee where, how, and how much their members' music is being broadcast and played in public. Based on how much their music has been used in public, the performance rights society pays the composer and publisher a certain amount of "performance royalties".

The performance rights societies in turn collect money from broadcasters of music. That includes TV stations, radio stations and most recenty also YouTube. YouTube is a "broadcaster" of video just as much as a TV station.

YouTube, in turn, collects money from their advertisers.

So, in a rather complex and convoluted way, you may say that money travels like this: Advertiser -> YouTube -> Performance rights society -> Music Composer.

I would like to stress that you, as a video producer and video uploader, do not pay any of these performance royalties. It does not cost you anything beyond the normal one-time stock music license fee, to use royalty-free music on YouTube. The money that YouTube pays to the performance rights societies originate from YouTube's advertisers - not from video uploaders.

In an ideal world, this is how it's supposed to work. The challenge however - and this is where the system is not yet good enough - is that YouTube have no idea exactly what music is playing in each of their millions of videos. They have no idea who wrote and who published how many minutes and seconds of music used in how many YouTube videos. There simply is no record of this.

Reality check

In the real world though, what happens most of the time is that YouTube just sends money to the performance rights organizations without any detailed lists of who this money is meant for. They simply don't know who composed the music in all their videos, and how this money should be divided amongst composers and publishers.

The performance rights society, in turn, receives a sum of money from YouTube and, frankly, they really don't know who to give this money to. So what they do is to "guess" the best they can, how much music, by which composer and publisher, has been used "most" in YouTube videos. They literally then divide up this money, on a percentage scale, among the composers who are already making the most royalties from traditional TV and radio broadcasts. They simply assume that the percentages will be likewise -- i.e. if Britney Spears has so-and-so much music played on the radio, then she probably also has a similar amount of music played at YouTube.


This is how YouTube's music royalties are divided as per today. Sadly, if you're a composer and you've had your music used in a YouTube video, it's unlikely that you'll ever see any performance royalties for that, unless you also happen to be on high rotation on MTV and the radio stations.

Going forward...

I have reason to believe, though, that YouTube and the performance rights organizations are trying to find a way to distribute the money better and more accurately.

Frankly, nobody will ever have the time to sit and listen through every YouTube video and find out who composed the music that's playing in that video. But what they can do is start asking video uploaders to put proper music credits in the video information when they upload it to YouTube. There is a text field where video uploaders can enter "more text" about their video, and this is a good place to include good and proper music credits.

This is why we at now, if our music is used in a YouTube video, requires that our music be properly credited in the "more text" field. Here's an example of somebody who has done it correctly:

Notice these lines appearing in the "more info" text area about the video:

Track title: Away From Her
Composer: Alexander Khaskin (SOCAN - CAE#: 231945867)
Publisher: Lynne Publishing (PRS - CAE#: 541626758)

Track title: My Life
Composer: Alexander Khaskin (SOCAN - CAE#: 231945867)
Publisher: Lynne Publishing (PRS - CAE#: 541626758)

Being ready for future improvements

To be honest, even if music credits are included here, it does not mean that the composer and publisher will automatically get their fair and correct performance royalties. I believe that, as of today, nobody is checking these text areas for music credits and applying a share of the performance royalties to the correct composer.

But we have to start somewhere. We at strongly believe that this is a step in the right direction and that eventually, YouTube and the performance rights organizations are going to find a way to "spider" the text areas for music credits and, with time, get better and better, more and more accurate distribution of the performance royalties that should rightfully be with the actual composers who made the music in the videos - rather than already high-earning pop artists who get all the YouTube money because they happen to have their music played on radio and MTV a lot.

When we ask you to credit our music as accurately and completely as possible when you upload a video that contains our music - it's really about future proofing. Soon, there will definitely be a system in place to find these music credits and then properly distribute the performance royalties. And when that happens, we would like to be ready for it, with all of our composers' music already properly credited.

So - thanks for reading and thanks for always including music composer and publisher info, whenever you use our music in a YouTube video.

About the author: Bjorn Lynne constantly finds himself inspired by new sounds and new directions in music and sound design. He started composing music on his Amiga computer around 1990 and from then on has gone on to produce more than 20 music albums, worked for 10 years as an Audio Manager in a video games development company, started his own business Lynne Publishing, (which owns and runs, scored music for film and TV, and produced a large amount of Stock Music and Sound Effects for the library. He lives with his wife and his daughter in an idyllic seaside town in Norway.
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