Using Copyrighted and Library Content

Find out how you can legally and ethically use copyrighted and library content in your academic research, instruction, essays & writings, and creative projects. Legal disclaimer: this copyright guide is meant for informational & educational purposes only.

Library Research Guide

Royalty-Free Music Explained


This page will introduce you to how to incorporate music in your videos by using music that is royalty-free. This is the third subpage and third step to using music in videos in a legal and ethical manner.

Royalty-Free Defined

  • Royalty-free: music free of paying royalties
  • Royalties: usage-based payments to a private entity
    • For example, a movie producer may pay a hefty royalty fee to have a well-known pop song in the opening credits of her film. The movie producer would likely have to pay another royalty fee to have the same song in another scene or another film.
Myths and Facts with opposite pointing arrows

Image courtesy of Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA

Royalty-Free Myths Debunked

  • Myth: "Royalty-free music is free."
    • Reality: some royalty-free music is free, but most of the time, you have to pay for it.
    • Royalty-free music can be as inexpensive as $1 and as expensive as thousands of dollars or more, depending on the intended purpose of the use.
  • Myth: "Royalty-free is copyright-free."
    • Reality: the copyright remains with the composer/creator. However, when you purchase the music, you are usually purchasing a specific license that allows for a range of uses or for a specific type of use, usually in perpetuity. In contrast, royalties paid for songs are usually a one-time use and only for a specific type of use.
  • Myth: "Creative Commons Licensing (CCL) and royalty-free are the same."
    • Reality: CCL is a type of open licensing for all types of creative content. It is free to download and use in your own work, so long as you follow the terms of the license, which are simple and easy to understand.
    • Royalty-free music, on the other hand, is generally a specific license attached to individual music or audio files; it is also purchased by individual users and gives the user certain permissions to use the creator's music in their projects. License terms can vary, so be sure to check the terms of the license before making a purchase.
  • Myth: "My purchased music, (e.g., iTunes) is royalty-free, so I can use it in my YouTube video."
    • Reality: Your personal collection of music is not royalty-free, unless you explicitly bought a track that had a royalty-free license attached to it. When you purchase music for your individual/personal use, it does not include permission to use it in videos or other creative projects.

Royalty-Free Music Providers

These royalty-free music providers vary in how they license their content, so be sure to read the terms of use for each individual license or track you purchase.

A note of caution: you may purchase or download royalty-free music, but it is an ambiguous term, especially since an implied license is involved. You may be agreeing to a license that allows for only a specific type of use. Be cautious of language that is extremely specific or restrictive about your use or that has an expiration date.

The resources provided (above) can be trusted, but each license will vary depending on the artist/creator, the track itself, the purpose of your use, and other factors.

If you find music elsewhere, look for red flags that the content is time-licensed or has restrictive terms. If you're unsure, contact the Center for Advancement of Digital Scholarship (CADS) or fill out a copyright consultation form.