Streaming Music and Copyright

My mind has been buried in Copyright and Fair Use lately. I have always had a bit of a cyber security geek streak in me, to be honest. I know, I know! You’re probably thinking, “Ugh, she’s one of THOSE!”

I want to start out by reminding you that this blog post does not provide legal advice. This is merely to guide you through some of the areas that you may find challenging, provide you with some resources, and remind you to think about your use of streaming music as you navigate through this complex world of copyright.

As educators, it is up to us to model ethical behavior as well as to comply with copyright and fair use guidelines. Our students and other teachers look to us for guidance. The more informed we are about this often confusing topic, the better for everyone.

Music copyright applies to everyone. Maybe you’ve used a recording of a song for an assembly or for a play. Unless you have the proper license in place, you could be breaking copyright.

In 2021 The Music Modernization Act updated the copyright law to make statutory licensing fairer for creators and more efficient for digital music providers. This changed the way musicians get paid for their work that is found on streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes. Prior to this act, much of the digital music was used without permission. Therefore the artists and all others involved in the music industry didn’t get paid for their work. It makes it much fairer for these creators to get paid for their work. Understanding the Music Modernization Act:

Judy Pancoast –

I asked Judy Pancoast, an Award Winning Songwriter, and Performer her thoughts on music copyright and why it matters. She said, “As an independent musician, I value my copyrights above all else. Since the advent of streaming music, my income has been measurably depleted to the point where I can’t afford to record in a studio anymore. As recording sales dropped, many independent musicians like myself have been working hard to find alternative income streams, like licensing songs for commercials, TV shows, and movies, creating choral arrangements, and so forth. Therefore, if someone is using my music without paying for it-  using my music in the background at a business (an amusement park did this for many years without paying for it), in a commercial (it happens sometimes at local radio stations), or performing choral versions without a license, that is money right out of my pocket. A lot of people use the excuse “Oh, it’s a big record company, they can afford it,” but I am not a big record company and I pay for everything to do with my career myself. I recently learned that a song I wrote and arranged for a choral group in college, some forty years ago, has been passed down from member to member through the years. Those who have gone on to be music teachers have used my song with their choruses and never paid me a dime. I only found out when someone contacted me and told me they heard it at a funeral in 2019. That’s forty years of income that I’ve missed out on!” 

There are a couple of notable music copyright cases that can be found on this site: Most notably are Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams v. Marvin Gaye and the one between Roby Orbison and 2 Live Crew. Very interesting reading.

YouTube Studio menu on left side with arrow pointing to the Audio Library at the bottom.

Did you know that YouTube now has a Creative Commons filter and a YouTube Audio Library? It does! You can search for music to use however you want to simply by going to the Audio Library and searching. You’ll find the Audio Library link on the left side of your YouTube Studio page at the bottom.

So many folks use the audio from a YouTube video for whatever they want to. This goes against YouTube’s terms of service. If you want to use music from YouTube you need to use the Audio Library and the Creative Commons filter instead.

There are so many reasons why you should honor copyright. The least of which is that it’s the law! But artists earn their living by writing, recording, and performing songs. Their livelihood depends on your ethical behavior. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

There are many resources out there to provide you with more information about music copyright and ethical use. If you are an educator, particularly, this is a great resource from the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) – Copyright Session:

The next time you plan to use music in a presentation, as a backdrop to a public event or on your website please do your homework and find Creative Commons or Public Domain music that works. Or better yet, maybe you should commission a student or educator to write one for you! ~B