Thursday, October 28, 2010

Singing the Book Trailer Blues

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.

I'll try to keep a complex subject simple, but if you still have concerns after reading this post, check with your publisher or an entertainment lawyer.

Many sound recordings have two copyrights. The first is for the composition as it has been 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 his work, the arranger may have copyrighted that.

Then there is the performance copyright. Whoever actually recorded the track has a separate copyright. Yes there are some exceptions, but not many.

By now you're wondering if your book trailer must resemble a silent movie, where the movie 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 purchase one that includes a royalty free license. "Royalty free" doesn't mean free, but it does mean that you pay only 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.

In my opinion, this 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. Unless it is a work-for-hire, however, she will own the performance copyright in the recording, so make sure you have her permission to use it. (I'll talk about work-for-hire in next month's post.)

Of course, you don't want to use this third option unless you know you will get a quality product. Or if a less-than-perfect performance fits the tone of your humor or children's book.

Actually, there is a fourth option: contact the copyright holders for permission. Unless you are wedded to a particular recording that isn't available as stock music, it makes more sense to go with option one, which is easier and quicker.

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.

Kathryn Page Camp


  1. Hi, Kathryn! I always seem to have questions. My question this time concerns a song that is "the song" for my characters in the second book in my series. It is "We Will Dance" as performed by Steven Curtis Chapman. I would like to reprint the lyrics, if possible, somewhere in the book since it is absolutely perfect for this book. I know I will need permission, and need to get the facts since I'm not sure whether Steven wrote either the music and/or the lyrics. If you have time, and solely at your convenience, I'd like some direction on how to pursue this. Thanks, as always, for your wise and valuable input. Blessings!

  2. I appreciate your wonderful advice. Writing isn't a straight road to a destination, is it?

  3. Another great column-blog from our super Hoosier Ink attorney-in-residence! Thanks so much for the legal pointers. . . :-)

  4. Thanks, Steph and Millie.

    JoAnn, I think Steven Curtis Chapman wrote those lyrics. They should be under copyright and you will need permission to reprint them. You might check his web site to see if he has contact information for copyright permissions. If not, just try his general contact address. Or, if the book is under contract, your publisher may be able to help you.


  5. Thanks for answering questions that many of us have, doubtless, wondered about. Since we are committed to doing things for the Lord, then that must include working within the law and within ethics if we decide to create a trailer.

  6. Thanks so much, as always, Kathryn! As the others have said, your information, advice and input is so timely and invaluable. So glad you're here! I appreciate your help. Blessings!

  7. Wow, Kathryn, I hadn't even got to this point yet. I'm going to tuck that information away for the future. Thanks.