Features – Copyright and Licensing Digital Materials – A Resource Guide

Therese A. Clarke Arado is Reference and Instructional Services Librarian and Assistant Professor at the Northern Illinois University
College of Law. She teaches Basic Legal Research to first year law students. She worked previously at University of Colorado, Latham and Watkins and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Therese created this guide for a July 20, 2005 program, Multimedia Presentations: How to Get Copyright Clearance and other Permissions for Digital Projects, at the AALL Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

This resource page is meant to be for informational purposes only and nothing on it should be relied upon as legal advice, guidance or other type of legal assistance. If you are not certain from the research you have done whether permission is required you should err on the side of caution and always seek the permission potentially needed.

The digitization of life in our world is creating more and more questions in the world of copyright and licensing. The following information is meant to give you a brief overview of some of the many issues you may encounter. Additionally, it is meant to provide you with some reliable resources to use in your quest to obtain appropriate permissions for the use of copyrighted works.

The Library of Congress offers a great deal of copyright information in its U.S. Copyright Office section. Here you can search copyright records as well as learn how to register your own work. Additionally, you can find links to copyright and licensing organizations and print copyright clearinghouse entities.

The University of Texas has excellent comprehensive copyright information for materials used in multimedia presentations, available on its website. The University of Texas site was used to locate some of the relevant organizations described below. It is also an excellent site for questions on various areas of copyright in addition to multimedia use. Please use this site as a resource for additional information on these issues.

Another useful website is from the Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis, Securing Permission for Copyrighted Works: Expediting the Process with the Aid of Collective Rights Organizations. This site, like the University of Texas site, covers more than multimedia issues.

For those of you in academia you may feel that your use of information falls into the fair use category. This is not always the case, depending upon how the material will be used. Be certain to investigate whether your use falls under fair use guidelines. You may be able to obtain assistance in this area from your institution’s legal department.

Additionally, some people believe if they are not being paid to present at a conference or workshop then the information in the presentation falls under fair use, regardless of academic status. Again, this is not necessarily the case, and you need to investigate the use of your materials and whether permissions are required. To familiarize yourself with fair use, a good place to begin is the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center.

The sources listed below are starting points (and in some instances finishing points) for your licensing and copyright needs. If the organization is not the one that deals with your specific issues it will likely be able to direct you to the more appropriate organization. If you are embarking upon a quest to obtain permissions be sure to start early, especially if you are seeking permission at no cost. Your priorities and the industry organizations priorities are very different and the organization may not act as quickly as you hoped. So be on the safe side, do not wait until the last minute to seek any of these permissions.

Music Copyright Resources

Obtaining permissions for the use of music in any sort of presentation can be a very complicated process. Some uses will be covered by fair use, however, even if you are in academia there are uses that are not considered fair use and therefore permission must be obtained before the music is used. Because of the different talents and people involved (i.e., songwriters, composer, performers, etc.) in producing a record, multiple permissions may need to be sought in order to use a particular piece in a presentation. See www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/permissn.htm. Each organization below (web addresses have been provided) provides useful resources in the “About Us” and FAQ pages regarding the entities involved in licensing a work. Be certain to review these areas and utilize the contact information for answers to specific questions you may have.

As stated earlier, this process can be very complicated and may require permissions from three or more entities depending upon the desired use of the material.

The first three companies listed are Performing Rights Organizations in the United States. Each represents different members of the music industry. If you do not know which organization covers the artist or copyright holder etc. in which you are interested see each organization’s web site for member information or contact the organization at the number listed below.

Performance Rights Organizations

ASCAP (American Society of Composers Artists and Publishers) “…protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for…performances of their copyrighted works.” The organization represents hundreds of thousands of composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers in the U.S. They help obtain permission to perform music. See About ASCAP.

ASCAP – New York Office

One Lincoln Plaza

New York, NY 10023

Ph: (212) 621-6000

Fax: (212) 724-9064

For general licensing questions: [email protected]

The ASCAP organization has other offices throughout the country, in Puerto Rico and in London. Please consult the ASCAP website for information on these other offices.

BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) BMI is an organization like ASCAP, which acquires the rights to music from writers and publishers and provides licenses for use of the music to interested parties. BMI does not license the right to manufacture and distribute the recording of a specific copyrighted piece (e.g. recording and distributing something that has been previously recorded by another artist.) BMI licenses public performance rights. See About BMI.

BMI – New York Office
320 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019-3790
Ph: (212) 586-2000

BMI has offices throughout the country. To determine whether there is an office closer to you see www.bmi.com/contact/index.asp.

For licensing questions based on the type of organization seeking permission see: www.bmi.com/licensing/business/whatis.asp. Colleges and Corporate are probably the two most likely categories for our library users. However, the list of options is quite extensive.

SESAC Inc. Like BMI and ASCAP, SESAC is another performing rights organization ,and is headquartered in Nashville, TN. When the organization began seventy-five years ago, SESAC’s focus was on European and gospel music. However, they now represent all genres of music and no longer focus on European music. See About SESAC.

SESAC – Nashville Office
55 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203
Ph: (615) 320-0055
Fax: (615) 329-9627

SESAC Inc. has offices elsewhere in the U.S. as well as a London office. See the SESAC web page for contact information.

Individual Song Licenses

While you may be able to obtain individual song licenses from one or more of the above organizations, they often sell “blanket licenses” which cover the use of any songwriter/composer etc. that is covered by the organization. Another means of obtaining permission is to directly contact the copyright holder of a piece to obtain permission. The copyright holder of the sound recording is often the record label. (see www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/permissn.htm under the Musical Performance section). Information on record labels may be found through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). See the RIAA information below for contact information.

Another use for an individual song license might be to synchronize the song to video or slides. In order to do this, a synchronization license is required. The synchronization permission is obtained from the songwriter and the music publisher. (see www.soundexchange.com/licensing101.html) According to the ASCAP Common Licensing Terms page, the Music Publisher is one who “works with songwriters to market and promote songs…Music publishers “pitch” songs to record labels, movie and television producers and others who use music…” Music publishers have their own organization aptly named the Music Publishers Association of the United States. The website contains a directory of music publishers as well as other useful resources.

Prior to 2003 the Harry Fox Agency provided a service for synchronization licenses, however they no longer provide such service. It is necessary to go directly to the songwriter and/or publisher. Also, see ASCAP, BMI and SESAC above for contact information for songwriters and publishers.

Issues Related to the Use of a Particular Sound Recording

ASCAP, BMI and SESAC as stated above deal with songwriter’s and composer’s rights in the use of music (see the respective “About” sections of each organization’s web site for detailed information). If you are using a recorded version of a particular work you also need to be aware of the rights held by the sound recording copyright owner or SRCO (see www.soundexchange.com/about/about.html). While the RIAA provides representation to SRCOs on various issues affecting the industry, SoundExchange collects and administers royalties for SRCOs. SoundExchange was originally a division of RIAA which spun-off in 2003 and is now an independent organization.

The right to license the use of a sound recording came with the passage of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995. (Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995, Pub. L. 104-39, 109 Stat. 347. Codified at 17 U.S.C. §§101, 114 and 115 (2000).) Prior to 1995 there was no right to license and collect royalty fees for the public performance of sound recordings.

RIAA (The Recording Industry Association of America)

Since the record label is often the owner of the sound recording a good starting point for information is the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). According to their web page, “The RIAA is an organization that represents much of the U.S. recording industry.” The website for the organization provides a good overview of copyright and licensing issues involved in using music for various purposes, including internet use and for obtaining the appropriate licenses.

Recording Industry Association of America

1330 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20036-1704
Ph: (202) 775-0101
Fax: (202) 775-7253

Sound Exchange

According to their website, SoundExchange is an organization representing over 850 record companies and thousands of artists whose purpose is to collect performance royalties for sound recording copyright owners (SRCOs).

In addition to songwriters and composers, when a recording of a song is played the SRCO is entitled to a royalty fee. The purpose of SoundExchange is to make such collection of fees an easier process for those entitled to the fees.

1330 Connecticut Ave. NW
Suite 330
Washington, D.C. 20036
Ph: (202) 828-0120

Fax: (202) 833-2141

E-mail: [email protected]

In addition to the above companies, see the information on the Corbis Corporation below (under Television).

Mechanical Licenses

Another license requirement that you may come across is the mechanical license which allows a person reproduce and distribute copyrighted music. For a more detailed definition of a mechanical license, see www.harryfox.com/public/FAQ.jsp. The Harry Fox Agency is the organization from which a mechanical license can be sought.

The Harry Fox Agency, Inc.
711 Third Ave.
New York, N.Y. 10017
Ph: (212) 370-5330
Fax: (646) 487-6779

Motion Picture and Television Copyright Resources

While copyright and licensing issues are always challenging, obtaining permission for motion picture use is generally not as complicated as music. As with music though it is possible for there to be multiple interests in a film (i.e. actors, producers, writers etc.) You want to be certain you have obtained all appropriate permissions before use. The U.S. Copyright Office can be very useful in determining copyright ownership.

For starters though, you can contact one of the following companies, which provide licensing services in the motion picture industry. If you are only interested in using a film clip, you may need to work directly with the studio producing the movie or contact the Corbis Corporation. Hopefully, the organizations listed below can direct you to the appropriate contacts in that instance.

The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)

This organization provides what they refer to as an Umbrella License® to non-commercial entities wishing to show a film. This license covers the range of materials available through the corporation and allows for multiple showings of films. (see www.mplc.com/aboutMplc.php).

It is possible the organization you work for may have a license with MPLC. Check with the legal or business divisions to determine if you already have license coverage.

The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation

Ph: (800) 462-8855

No address information is provided at their site. An e-mail request form can be filled out and submitted via the MPLC website.

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.

This company covers public performance licensing and distribution of film in non-theatre markets. This licensing likely covers just the entire film, however they may also be an organization to contact when interested in using just a clip.

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.

201 S. Jefferson Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63103-2579

Ph: (800) 876-5577

Contact via e-mail form at the website.

Movie Licensing USA

Although this organization will likely not provide a lot of assistance for CS-SIS members it should not be overlooked. The coverage of the organization is public schools K-12 and public libraries. While some members may be from public libraries there are likely none of us in the K-12 category. Please see their website for additional information on what they cover, or call them at (888) 267-2658.


When trying to obtain permission to use a clip from television or an entire program the best place to start is with the copyright holder. This entity will be identified in the credits of the program. Another source to begin with would be the production studio.

The Corbis Corporation can also be contacted to obtain rights in the television area. If you wish to use images or clips from television the Corbis Rights Clearance Services section may be helpful. According to the “Rights Clearances” section of the Corbis web site, the company provides rights clearance assistance in the following areas: “celebrities and celebrity estates, feature films and TV clips, athletes and sports leagues, fine art, music and audio and properties and landmarks.”

See http://pro.corbis.com/creative/services/rights/default.asp.

Corbis Corporation

(800) 260-0444

e-mail: [email protected]

The corporation has numerous offices through out the country and abroad. For an individual contact name and number in a specific office see the list at


Web Based Material and Blogs

Remember that when you give a presentation certain copyright and licensing rules may or may not apply depending upon the audience, lack of distribution of the presentation any remuneration involved etc. However, even if the presentation as given fell under fair use or less restrictive copyright and licensing requirements when presented “live” that is likely not the case if you decide to post the presentation on the Web. When taking an original presentation and later distributing it (whether on CD or on the Web or in some other format) be certain you have gone back to the organizations listed above to be certain all proper permissions were obtained.

If you have found images or clips on the web that you wish to incorporate into your own web page or a presentation you still need to obtain permission. As we all know, just because it is available on the web it is not free to use at any time. Hopefully, the web page has contact information provided. In order to obtain permission you want to contact the author and provide a written description of what you would like to use and how you plan to use it (e.g. in a presentation, on another web page etc.). If an author of the site is not easily discernible contacting the page’s Webmaster is your next alternative. It is possible that a third party owns the material used, at the site you are viewing, and permission was obtained to use it. If that is the case you will have to go to the original owner in order to seek proper permission.

There are numerous web sites that will provide free clip art to users and some that will provide free use of photographs. Often these sites require acknowledgement of the source, but otherwise do not charge. A simple search on the larger search engines for something such as “free photo images,” “free clipart” or even “free audio clips” will return numerous sites that may provide the material in which you are interested.

If the image or clip you wish to use comes from the film or music industry, you may have to go back to the organizations that represent the artists in those areas to obtain the proper permissions.

Lastly, blogs are becoming a very common place for information gathering. The nature of many blogs is to provide a forum for comments on particular topics. For an interesting and informative FAQ on what may or may not be considered “fair” on a blog (as well as elsewhere) see the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s site.

General Copyright and Licensing Thoughts

There are numerous other resources available to you when obtaining copyright and licensing permissions. The University of Texas, Stanford University and Library of Congress sites listed earlier can be immensely helpful in explaining certain aspects of copyright law into which you are delving. Additionally, the organizations providing the licensing of materials have very helpful FAQ sections explaining the specifics of copyright and licensing in their areas.

There may be other media forms (i.e. artwork, photographs etc.) that you choose to use in a presentation or project. Remember if it is copyright protected you want to seek permission before using it in the presentation. The sites listed above may prove useful in these areas as well.

Always err on the side of caution; if you have sought permission to no avail do not presume silence is an affirmation. You are safer not using the original material and using something you have created yourself or another item for which you can obtain permission.

The following is a list of materials that you may find useful to consult when working on a copyright or licensing issue. Several of the materials were consulted in connections with the creation of this resource page (those are marked with an *). The rest provide additional information that the researcher may find helpful.

AALL Guidelines on the Fair Use of Copyrighted Works by Law Libraries

Copyright Clearance Center:

222 Rosewood Drive
Danvers, MA 01923
Ph: (978) 750-8400
Fax: (978) 646-8600
E-mail: [email protected]

*Copyright and Fair Use – Stanford University Libraries

Creative Commons is an organization that works to provide free access to copyrighted works.

Prof. Laura N. (Lolly) Gasaway’s home page. The web page provides links to many articles written by Prof. Gasaway that can help guide the copyright researcher. Contains straight forward chart on determining public domain status.

*James S. Heller, The Librarian’s Copyright Companion (2004).

Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s website. The site provides news and blog content as well as numerous other resources for the researcher.

*Library of Congress web pages: www.loc.gov and www.copyright.gov

Music Library Association – Copyright for Music Librarians, from the James Madison University web page.

*Publishing and the Law: Current Legal Issues (A. Bruce Straugh ed., 2001)

This title contains useful information on many areas of copyright, not just multimedia. One chapter authored by Norman Desmarais is entitled Copyright and Fair Use of Multimedia Resources. The material in this book was also published as a 2001 issue of The Acquisitions Librarian (no. 26).

*Carrie Russell, Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide for Librarians (2004).

*Richard Stim, Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off (2d ed. 2004).

This is a Nolo Press title in which the material is presented very clearly and provides good coverage for the topic at hand.

Additionally, all websites listed in the text above were consulted for the information provided therein.

Posted in: Copyright, Features, Libraries & Librarians