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Royalty-free music

3 min read

What does royalty-free mean?

Royalty-free means rights holders do not charge for the use of the musical work, performance or sound recording.

This applies to both and , and means that they can be used without having to pay the any .

When is music royalty free?

There are several types of royalty-free music, including:

  • Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers a variety of that allow to share their works. Some of these licenses are royalty-free, which means that the can use the musical works and sound recordings without having to pay any royalties to the rights holders.

  • Commercial royalty-free music libraries: There are several commercial royalty-free music libraries that offer a wide variety of music that can be used for commercial purposes. These libraries either clear the from rights holders in advance, sometimes for a fee, produce the music in-house or use artificial intelligence. Typically, these libraries then charge a one-time fee for the use of the musical works and sound recordings, with no ongoing royalties to pay.

  • Musical works and sound recordings that are out of copyright: this means that the term of protection of the rights in the musical work or sound recording have expired. This can be at least 50 after the death of the longest-living songwriter for the musical work or at least 50 years after the creation of the first publication of the sound recording. It varies based on national .

  • Musical works and sound recordings that are used under a copyright or exception, which are typically non-profit uses, for example, playing excerpts of a to students during a music education class.

Please note that royalty-free is not always copyright-free. There is a difference. Anyone using royalty-free music still protected by copyright or related rights, and not being used under a copyright or related right exception would still have to abide by the rights holder’s restrictions on how it can be used. For example, you can use royalty-free music from a music library, but that may not necessarily mean it is copyright-free and, therefore, may not allow you to alter or that music.

In some cases, libraries of royalty-free music may also offer copyright-free music. But it’s always best to check the terms of the license before using any copyrighted work to make sure that you comply with the copyright law.

For more information on all of this, head over to our topics on Music Creators' Rights, Rights Transfer and Licensing, and Scope of Protection.

Image credit: Martin Fabricius Rasmussen