Can I use music from a free-download site or karaoke music site?
Not necessarily. Just because music is free to download does not mean it is free to use in a film that will be in the public arena (at a public screening or online). It just means you can download it for free and listen to it privately.
But the site says I can use their music in a film or video.
Using their music for free in a privately made video (such as a wedding video) is different to using it for a film that will be screened in the public domain. It is very important to use a site that clearly specifies that its music can be used in productions that will be screened publicly. Most of these will charge a fee for use of the music and this guide features a list of recommended sites.
My character has movie posters in his bedroom. Is this okay?
No. Do not use movie posters, photographs or other images of copyrighted material. The same goes for recognisable logos and images on clothing, or footage from movies or TV programs that a character in your film might be watching. All of these images are copyrighted and securing permissions can be time consuming and very expensive. If you want posters or artwork in your movie, make your own original artwork. Ask actors to wear clothing that does not have logos, etc. If your character is watching TV, you cannot show (or hear the sound of) a real-life movie or TV program – you will need to record your own material. This can be easily done by simply filming something with your friends and playing it back on the screen, using a sound effects library for fake TV sounds, or taking a photograph of yourself to put in a picture frame.
But my friends and I make videos for YouTube using popular songs all the time.
The internet, including YouTube, is full of copyright-breaching material. You can make these videos privately, but as soon as they go online – and you don’t have permission from the artist / recording company / movie studio – you are in breach of the law and it may just be a matter of time before the owner asks you to take those videos down.
Remember: if it’s not yours, you need permission.
Creative Content Australia’s website has detailed information on the importance of copyright. Creative Content Australia is focused on supporting Australian creative communities and educating people about the value of screen content.
Another excellent resource is Creative Content Australia’s Nothing Beats the Real Thing resources for primary and secondary school students.