Copyright & legal

Copyright is an extremely important matter when it comes to making short films. Put simply, if it belongs to someone else, you need permission.

This can be a confusing matter for a lot of filmmakers – they see homemade video clips set to popular music on YouTube, and they download music from ‘free music’ websites and think they can use it in their films. The winning films in the 1-Minute Film Competition will be screened in public and online so we must be very careful about respecting copyright law. This is not only true for using music, but for posters and props that may be used in the film, as well as images that might be on a television or computer screen in the film.

Any work that is submitted to the competition that does not have copyright clearance will not be accepted.

If you have used, or plan to use, pieces of music or images (posters, etc.) that are not your own (and that you have not already obtained permission to use), you will need to seek synchronisation rights. This licensing will be done directly by the copyright holders, rather than by a central organisation.

Two kinds of copyright can be involved:

  • The copyright on the musical composition. This copyright is connected to the writer(s) of the music and is usually administered by a publishing company (in other words, you will usually be dealing with a publisher rather than with composers/songwriters themselves). Rights attached to musical compositions are often referred to as the publishing rights.
  • The copyright on the sound recording (if an existing sound recording is being used). This copyright is connected to the recording artist(s) and is usually administered by the record company that releases the recording. Rights connected with sound recordings are often referred to as the master rights.

There are usually contacts in Australia, even if the music is not Australian. Any decisions about fees or any other aspect of the project will need to be negotiated between you and the copyright holder. There is no central listing of copyright owners, as they are not required to be part of one, but there are various ways to look for the information. If you have enquiries about specific pieces of music, you may use the research facility provided by APRA AMCOS. You can find this on the APRA AMCOS website.

Other sources of music

A great way to find music for your film is to seek out public domain, royalty-free and Creative Commons music.

Public-domain music is music that has fallen out of copyright. These are songs that are typically very old. Sites like are a good source of public-domain music. Because copyright laws vary from country to country, it is important to confirm whether the song is in the public domain in your region.

Royalty-free music can be used without having to pay ongoing fees. Sometimes it is free, but often it will require a one-off payment. There are a number of sites like AudioJungle and Audio Network that allow you to purchase music for a small fee.

Creative Commons is a way of distributing music and other work that exists alongside copyright. Songs that are distributed under a Creative Commons license are typically free to use, only requiring that you mention the artist in your credits. There are a number of great Creative Commons sites including the Free Music Archive, Jamendo, Bensound and Incompetech.

Know someone who is a great musician? Why not ask them to write music for your short film? Original music is always a better option because it makes your film more distinctive. Even if you don’t have a great deal of skill, it’s always possible to write original music using loops in software like GarageBand and FL Studio.