What Media Can I Legally Use for Free?
Posted by on 21 December 2010 01:44 PM
Any music that is your own original work can be used. However, there are several other options.

If the image, video, or music was created by someone else, you are required to comply with copyright law by obtaining permission from the person(s) who created it, both the original work (for example, the composer and lyricist of a song) and the derivative work (e.g., a third party's rendition of it) you wish to publish. They may also require payment to use the media.  Once permission is obtained and financial matters are settled you are free to use the music.

There are also many sources for free or public domain music (See FAQ: “Where Can I Find Music for My Website?) If you find media on a site and the website specifically states that you are welcome to use the media free of charge and without a license, then you can use that media.  Also, any music, literature or art in the public domain are allowed to be used.  For example, it is safe to assume that the older hymns (75 years of age and older) are in the public domain and are free to use. So, you could record yourself singing Just As I Am or produce a video of the original Christmas Carol and put those on your website.  Keep in mind, however, that this does not apply to recordings, video, or reproductions of these works or any copyrighted arrangements or variations of the media.

For example, Amazing Grace is a song and poem in the public domain and you are free to use it, however, a recording of Michael W. Smith singing Amazing Grace would be copyrighted and you would need to obtain permission from Michael W. Smith and his record label to use that recording of the song.  Similarly, Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone is a copyrighted arrangement of Amazing Grace.  So, you would not only need to get permission to use Chris’ recording of the song, but you would need permission to use a recording you made of yourself singing the song.  Even though Amazing Grace is in the public domain name, Chris Tomlin’s arrangement is copyrighted.

The final option is to purchase the music specifically for website purposes. There are many sites that offer website background music and there are many individuals that provide free-lance production services for this purpose. We recommend a web search for further information.

You can find more information about copyright at the US Copyright Office: