“I Do Not Own the Rights to this Music” – What Does it Mean?

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Countless music junkies and video enthusiasts have gotten inspired to create something with their favorite songs–including fan videos or animations that feature major hits as background music. And of course, you’re bound to encounter well-intentioned song and video uploads on online platforms such as YouTube and various social media sites. Or, maybe you’re an established content creator on one of those platforms yourself!

When fans upload copyrighted songs, music videos, or concert footage, a lot of the time they’ll include the phrase “I do not own the rights to this music” in the comments section. People often think that openly stating that they don’t claim to have created the music protects them against copyright infringement laws–but does it really?

What is “I Do Not Own the Rights to this Music” anyway?

What exactly does “copyright infringement” mean?

Most people know that copyright infringement is a crime that can come with some pretty serious consequences, including painfully heavy fines. However, a lot of people misinterpret the term and wind up unwittingly breaking the law as a result.

Despite what most people think, “copyright infringement” does not simply mean falsely claiming the music as your own. It’s easy to assume that, if you aren’t trying to get clout or pretend that you created the music or video, then you’re all good: It’s about making sure you credit the artist, right?

Well, not quite. Copyrighted music is protected in all senses–not just trying to take credit for the work. Copyright laws also prohibit the use or redistribution of the content in any way. Unfortunately, that means that any form of using the content without express permission from the artist is illegal and counts as copyright infringement!

What are the risks of copyright infringement?

The consequences for using copyrighted music can range from mildly annoying to incredibly damaging to one’s wallet and reputation. Using copyrighted music without permission on a platform like YouTube will get your video demonetized, meaning that you can’t make any money off the video no matter how popular it might get–or, your video might be taken down entirely.

Some social media platforms will simply take down your illegal videos for the first offense or two, but then ban your account entirely if you continue. Additionally, you may get “cease and desist” letters from whoever owns the copyright to the music. And, if you persist in using the song or music video illegally, then you may be sued and taken to court for damages.

So, does using that phrase help me out at all?

Tacking on the phrase “I do not own the rights to this music” when uploading or using copyrighted content does not release you from the bounds of copyright laws. It doesn’t matter if you paste it into the comments section or include it in a slide at the beginning of your upload–this phrase does not cause your actions to become legal.

This news comes as a disappointment to many fans who want to upload and share their favorite songs, or even just have them on in the background in a video that they did indeed create themselves. But simply falling back on a phrase stating that they aren’t trying to take credit for the music does nothing to protect them in a legal sense: The content is illegal to share at all, credits or no credits.

Some people also think that if they purchased the song in some form, such as buying it through iTunes, then posting the song online combined with the phrase “I do not own the rights to this music” will work anyway. After all, they bought the song! But, alas–copyright laws still hold firm even if you have purchased a personal copy of the song: The music is meant to stay in your hands alone, and you do not get any redistribution or sharing rights with your purchase.

Now, you might be wondering “What about fair use? What if I’m not making any money by using these songs?” However, “fair use” doesn’t apply to uploading or sharing unchanged, copyrighted music–it usually applies to brief clips shared for educational or reporting/news-gathering purposes.

If that doesn’t quite clear things up for you, you’re not alone: The boundaries of whether or not something is considered “fair use” can be incredibly murky and vary a great deal from one situation to the next. In fact, when copyright lawsuits pop up that do involve fair use claims, they’re almost always decided on a case-by-case basis because of their complexity.

Factors involved in handling fair use claims involved things like:

  • Whether or not the uploader profited off of the artist’s music or damaged the artist’s profits in some other form
    How long of a song sample was uploaded
    Whether or not the copyrighted content was used creatively (like in a song remix or mashup)
    How long ago the music was released
    Where the content was uploaded or shared

Keep in mind that this list of factors only applies to potential damage control when it comes to the severity of a legal punishment: If someone has used copyrighted music in any way, they’ve broken the law. Oh, and don’t buy any hearsay about clips below a certain length being legal–there is no special cutoff that will protect you legally! As stated above: If you are pursued for using copyrighted music, then the length of the sample may be considered as a factor in how badly you broke the law. However, it won’t make your use of the music legal.

While it may be disappointing or limiting for many music fans and online content creators, copyright laws are very strict, and your only safe bet is to completely avoid using copyrighted content without permission.

Here’s a video that answers this topic well:

What are my alternatives?

While it admittedly isn’t quite the same, your best alternative to using any form of copyrighted music or videos is to substitute royalty-free material instead. There are all kinds of sites online that will sell licenses to use their music or other audio clips–often with different tiers of permissions and pricing, depending on what you need the music for. And, there are usually plenty of options available to use legally for free, too!

If you’re a content creator who really wants to use copyrighted music and nothing else will do, then you may prefer to switch platforms for certain content as well. For example, any of your videos that use copyrighted music will get demonetized and/or removed from platforms such as YouTube and Instagram–but TikTok, for instance, has partnered with several major record companies so that their users can include popular songs that would otherwise be illegal to use.

Just to recap:

It can be so incredibly tempting to include just a little clip of your favorite song in a video or post–sometimes there’s just no substitute for that perfect vibe. However, no matter what you might have heard about short samples, fair use, or especially the phrase “I do not own the rights to this music,” don’t do it!

Tacking this phrase onto your video copy, post, or upload will not do anything to protect you legally. Your videos can still get demonetized, your content can still be taken down, and you could be banned from your online accounts–not to mention that you can get sued by the copyright owners! It’s frustrating to have to pick royalty-free substitutes for your favorite songs, but with a little bit of work you should be able to find something that helps you create the right mood. And your content will seem more authentic anyway when you don’t say “I do not own the rights to this music”!