Using audio and music in your productions can give a real edge. Moving image and great music work fantastically well. However, there are real restrictions on using audio made by other people. This resource explains some of the legalities of working with music and sound effects.

Different kinds of audio:

The first step is to understand the different kinds of audio available. You can find these online or purchase CD’s with a catalogue of them. These can be divided into three main kinds of audio:

Sound effects – like doors closing or clapping for creating rich environments not captured on microphone.

Audio loops – small sections of audio ideal for looping and can be repeated until the desired length is achieved simply in programmes like Premiere Pro.

Songs – full length or sometimes available in shorter lengths for cheaper prices.


using music and sound legally

Audio in education:

There is a myth about using audio for educational purposes. Nearly all popular music is protected under copyright and cannot be reproduced or distributed under any circumstance without the owners permission.

One of the main issues when using copyrighted material is actually trying to get the owners permission. With most popular music, like the stuff in the charts, the copyright is usually owned by a range of producers, lawyers, writers and composers, not just the person that performed the music. This can make it really hard to get the right permission.

That means using audio in an education environment for media productions isn’t possible. There is a Fair Use policy, which means that short sections of audio can be reproduced, but there are strict rules to this. For example, if the audio is being critiqued in some way by the maker then they could reference the material, but not use it in their productions. This is regardless of whether the audio is put into a product that is created in a non-commercial way.

In education there are two main ways of adding audio to media products. Either use royalty free audio that you have purchased or use audio that comes under the Creative Commons License. Probably the best solution is to buy a Royalty Free Music Library. There are many sites out there that offer these on CD’s or hard drives. The music and audio clips are also really improving.

This article really helps explain some of the issues when trying to use audio in educational situations. While it covers US law, many of the same issues apply here in the UK:


Guidance on the law and use of audio in video productions from BFI

The following information comes from the bfi website Accessed: 23.12.11:


The BFI state: 

“You need permission to use any copyright music. You need to get two separate permissions, for the publishing and the recording. Music publishing is dealt with by PRS and music recordings are dealt with by PPL , who will give you contact details of the record company so you can deal with them directly.

If you perform your own version of someone else’s song you still have to deal with publishing rights (through PRS) if the music, words or arrangement are still in copyright.

If you use a recording of a piece of music written by Beethoven you still have to deal with recording rights (through PPL) if the recording or performers’ rights are still in copyright.

You may need to specify exactly how the music will be used (‘sync rights’) and to seek permission again if you change this (e.g. using it with different images).

If you create your own music using loop-based software you are normally allowed to use it without restriction, but check the terms and conditions.”

using music and sound legally

Royalty Free music to purchase:

The most common form of audio that you don’t need to get the authors permission to use is called Royalty Free. There are many websites that offer collections of audio tracks that are often bundled together. Once these have been purchased, you can use them however you wish in your media production. As a school or college it is well worth investing in a decent catalogue of these. While there are cheaper options you may want to consider the time it might take to find free audio. Another issue is the quality of free audio.

These sites offer tracks to purchase and then you can use them how you will:


Free Royalty Free Music and audio:

The site below has links to a really good variety of websites that offer free royalty free audio and music. It also has other valuable resources such as tutorials and guides:

Here is another site that offers free sounds:


Creative Commons License Audio:

Most audio that is free for you to use legally in your productions will come as part of the Creative Commons License. In most cases this allows people to download the audio and use it in productions as long as they give credit to the author. For more details about this license go to:

Most sites will have a FAQ or an About section that you should check when using them before you include the audio in part of your production. The most important element of the license means that you cannot distribute the audio as though you have created it and it cannot be included in your own work without reference to the author.


Different kinds of Creative Commons Licenses:

Here are the different kinds of Creative Commons Licenses. Sites and authors should outline which of these their audio is and how it should be used:

  • Attribution – this means that anyone is allowed to copy, distribute, display and perform the audio as long the author is given credit.
  • Noncommercial – this means that you can copy, distribute, display and perform the audio, but not for profit or commercial purposes.
  • No Derivative – this means you can copy, distribute, display and perform exact verbatim copies only.
  • Share Alike – means you can distribute derivative work as long as it has the same license as the original.
  • Public Domain – these are pieces of audio given to the public or the copyright has expired.


Attribution Creative Commons License Audio available:

The following sites offer free audio as long as you site the author in the production:


Mixed Creative Commons Licenses:

Freesound offers some really good loops and short pieces of audio. Most of the work is under the Creative Commons License, but each piece of audio can have a different restriction, but most are copyright free:



Many sites will allow the use of audio as long as it is not for commercial use. This means that it cannot be used in any production that will be sold at any point.


Public Domain

Audio that was recorded more than 50 years ago is considered public domain and the copyright that was owned by the author will have expired. Obviously this limits the kinds of audio available, but can be really useful for more classical soundtracks for video production like drama. For more information on copyright go to:


For audio in the public domain go to: 


Copyright free:

Some authors produce music without putting copyright on it and offer it for free to the public. This means that you wont have to credit them in your production. Essentially, this is another form of Public Domain license.


Links and further information

For lots of links to sites that offer audio and some really good guidance go to:


Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Editor for Pearson Portfolio.