Imagine all the grossly-impressive viral dance videos no longer gracing our news feeds. I personally would have more free time and the majority of my to-do lists complete, but who would want to part with that daily inspiration, escape, and quick reminder of why we love this field? The rise of self-made, filmed and edited videos has been an exciting ride for dance audiences; watching and wondering what inventive movement and performance qualities dancers will slay next. But behind the scenes, creators experience a bumpy and discouraging ride.

Artists put endless creative work into each dance video: choreographing, rehearsing, performing, filming, and editing, only to have a video suddenly removed by the website claiming music copyright laws had been broken. Many dancers just attempted to express themselves and had no intentions of criminal activity, but little explanations were being offered in return. While copyright laws are nothing new, the rise and spread of social media has made an easy platform to unknowingly break them. With problems being so new, all parties are just learning to navigate these new snags, and solutions are beginning to appear.

While copyright laws are nothing new, the rise and spread of social media has made an easy platform to unknowingly break them.

Though not everyone who creates dance for the internet is aiming for a career in social media, there are plenty of online personalities profiting from their millions of views, having ads on their pages, and endorsement through posts. In these cases, the music industry heard their product being used freely and uncredited, and only the posters were profiting. For example, a television commercial must clear a copyright on the music being used, why wouldn’t an ad in the form of a post have the same stipulations? Musicians also spend their entire life perfecting their art and would rather not be taken advantage of, which is the same respect that those in the dance field (and every artist in the world!) strives for. As the music industry adjusts to the new culture of social-media, so does its source of income. Album sales and downloads have taken a backseat to live-streaming services and royalties.

Once videos were blocked and removed, posters began adding “I do not own the rights to this music” in the description to show their intentions. This is considered a courtesy move for the artist, making it clear that the dancers are not claiming the music as their own, but rather using it for art. The phrase may spare one from plagiarism, but individual copyright laws can still be enforced for using a song. Unfortunately, the music artist can still choose whether they want the video removed or not. Some music is not allowed in certain countries, so often songs will automatically be muted depending on where the content is viewed.

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Obviously, musicians want their music to be heard and danced to. The largest music and social media companies are finding solutions because discouraging users’ artistic liberties will only lessen interest in their apps. Facebook and Universal Music Group have already struck a deal allowing users the ability to upload videos that contain their licensed music, from any of Universal’s record labels. Universal Music can be used in videos on all Facebook properties, which includes Facebook, Instagram, and Oculus. Luckily for the video visionaries, Universal Music operates countless record labels and recording artists. Using licensed songs will automatically show the artist and song title on a story or video, but crediting the song is what smart artists should have been doing this whole time. Additionally, Instagram has added a feature when copyrighted music is detected during a live feed. If not adjusted, the live feed is subject to being muted or blocked.

YouTube has also aided the transition to artistic freedom with a feature on their website to determine where one would legally stand with each individual music track. If you are interested in posting a video that includes music, log into YouTube’s Audio Library, type the name of a song under the “add supported music” tab, and it will show you its legal properties. This feature goes as far as counting the countries in which a video can be viewed, whether one can monetize off the video, and exactly what should be written to give proper credit to the artist. Lickd is an additional resource to access music that has been credited to use on YouTube, with tailored prices based on your account activity. 

The rise of self-made, filmed and edited videos has been an exciting ride for dance audiences

Where does TikTok stand in all of this? Luckily, TikTok has its own individual license agreement with music providers, because the clips are only 15-seconds and the artist is always credited. Creators also don’t profit directly from TikTok itself, and you’re protected as an artist as long as your account isn’t a verified business on the app. Unfortunately, with the app being young, we are likely to see policies change in the upcoming years as they did with other platforms.

Another plan to avoid the dreaded video take-down is seeking out music that has permissions. Plenty of musicians offer the rights of use to gain exposure. Searching terms such as “royalty free music” or “public domain music” gives a plethora of findings and asking these lesser-known artists directly can give added protection. When it comes to public domain music, you’re free to use the music because there is no existing copyright for one of three reasons: the rights have expired, the artist explicitly created their work for the public domain, or the copyright never existed. On the other hand, some websites are completely dedicated to royalty free music, such as Epidemic Sound and Free Music Archive. Always read the fine print, because some tracks come with specific credit instructions for use, not just writing “I do not own the rights to this music”. Of course, it is always important to give any artists proper credit as they have provided you a service.

The best advice is to plan ahead: research the songs you want to play, what laws apply to them, and on which online platform. While some of the music rights changes are newer to the industry, being a professional artist means getting accustomed to these copyright laws and knowing how to avoid copyright infringement. If you are going to create your own content, you are directly in charge of learning what is legal. Laws are laws and they will never go away, however, they may occasionally shift with the times. Take the time to educate yourself so you do not put your career at risk, and you can continue to create videos that audiences cannot wait to fawn over.