Will I run into copyright problems if I use excerpts from a specific song in a commercial I want to enter in a contest for a local business?

UPDATED: Jul 22, 2010

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Will I run into copyright problems if I use excerpts from a specific song in a commercial I want to enter in a contest for a local business?

A local company is running a TV commercial contest with a $250,000 first place prize. I want to use background music in my commercial, but I don’t own the rights to the music, nor do I have the permission of the mega-corporation that does (I haven’t asked). Will I run into copyright infringement problems if I use excerpts from a specific song in my commercial? Does the situation change if I have my nephew’s garage band play a cover of the piece and use excerpts of their rendition of the song? Would one the major music labels be likely to grant me permission to use one of their songs?

Asked on July 22, 2010 under Business Law, Arizona


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

No, you can't use excerpts from someone's song. If you do, you will be violating copyright; there are no exceptions permitting use for a commercial use or a contest with a prize. Doing a cover of the song would also violate copyright as much as simply sampling or excerpting the song--copyright includes the right to control reproduction, copying, and derivative works,  which includes covers of songs.

Probably, a music label would not allow the use, not without payment. As for what that might be, you won't know unless/until you ask.

If your nephew has a garage band, you might be best off having them come up with original music for your commercial. That way, if you should win, you'll own the resulting proceeds outright (as long as you have the proper agreement with your nephew), with no one else being able to come in to stake a claim.

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