We started on this fair use train to answer a question someone asked me: When can you use music in videos and podcasts? I think you can make some guesses as to the answer. First, you can certainly use music if you get permission from the owner of the music. Second, there are companies that provide a license for a catalog of songs for videos. Third, there are songs that are open source or under the Creative Commons license. Fourth, if the songs are old, they are in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright. Therefore, go ahead and use that Mozart Piano Sonata.
But, can you just turn on the radio and hope for a good song? Unless you are doing WPR’s morning classics, that is probably a bad bet. As we have learned, it is not likely fair use – especially if you are purposefully putting the music in your video and podcast.
Now, what if you are shooting a scene and someone – out of your control – is playing music in the background? If that use is truly incidental, you have a fighting chance to say it is fair use if you do not focus on the music. Extra bonus points if it plays for a short period and it’s in the background. But again, that gets you a defense, not a free pass. Therefore, think carefully before choosing your mood music and how it is supplied.