How to Check if a Song Is Copyrighted (Sites & Tools)

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How do you know if a song is subject to copyright law? First, assume all published music — even home recordings or handwritten sheet music — is subject to US intellectual property law.

Does this mean you need to pay for every song you play in your business?

If you use public domain or Creative Commons music, you do not have to pay for the rights to use these songs. However, most other music has been published and requires paying to license the rights to use it.

Navigating this process can be difficult, but signing up with a commercial music streaming service like Cloud Cover Music gives you the confidence to play trendy or new music in your business without worrying about negotiating a contract with a PRO.

Is All Music Copyrighted? How Can You Tell?

You want to legally play music in your business, but you do not know if it has a copyright or not. You know that you must license most music if you want to play it in your business location, and you also know that some music is free.

First, the United States provides automatic copyright protection to intellectual property that has been created. For example, this covers a book manuscript that has been written and completed, or a song that has been recorded, even if it is using a home recording setup. The author of this work retains intellectual property rights to their creation automatically until 70 years after their death.

If another entity, like a recording studio, publishes the song, that company retains slightly different intellectual property rights. It is best to assume that, if you hear a song, there is some type of copyright associated with it.

However, some songs are available for free or a one-time payment. You can find these by specifically searching for their type of license or domain. Otherwise, it is best to assume the song has been copyrighted, and you must pay royalties or a licensing fee.

How to Find Out if a Song Requires a License Fee or Is Free

There are two primary ways to find free music that you know you can legally play in your business.

  1. Public domain songs: The website PDInfo not only has information about copyright law; it also lists all the songs available in the public domain. Typically, these are songs composed or recorded in 1926 or before, as of January 2022. There are some other songs that are more recent that may also fall into the public domain. PDInfo also offers royalty-free music, which involves paying once for the license and then having access to this song for any purpose you want.
  2. Creative Commons license: Some musicians offer their work under a Creative Commons license, which allows you to use their songs for free either with written permission, in certain circumstances, or with no restrictions on use. You can search the Creative Commons site to get started.

You can also purchase royalty-free music, but ultimately, all these forms of “copyright-free” music do actually have a copyright associated with them. Public domain music has expired copyright; Creative Commons is a unique form of licensing; and royalty-free songs have a one-time license fee.

Another method to determine whether a song is copyrighted is to check using YouTube. Google has a Content ID system that uses algorithms to find songs that have copyright licenses associated with them and either mute them in a video that has been uploaded, determine if the video creator has paid for the license, or prevent the video from being found during a search.

It is possible to use this feature to find out if a song is copyrighted without harming your YouTube channel’s accessibility. You can make a video and use a checker during the video upload to find out if the song is copyrighted.

If making videos is not part of your business model and not how you want to use your music, this can be too complicated. Ultimately, it is best to assume that music you want to play in your business is copyrighted and that you must pay licensing fees unless you specifically look for public domain or Creative Commons songs.

Commercial Music Streaming With Cloud Cover Music Is Your Solution

You may be worried about negotiating license fees for your business with PROs, especially if you own a small business and need to be cautious about how you spend income. Fortunately, there is a great solution.

Commercial music streaming services like Cloud Cover Music require a low monthly subscription fee so you can get access to thousands of songs across all genres while knowing that you are legally covered thanks to CCM’s negotiations with PROs.


What I Wish They Taught Me About Copyright in Art School. (September 2020). Library of Congress Blog.

Homepage. PDInfo.

Homepage. Creative Commons.

How Content ID Works. YouTube Help.

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