It seems like such a simple thing; you’re a student and you only want to use a sample of music from your favorite soundtrack. Or maybe it’s a small, 5-second clip from another’s film. Who cares if you borrow these things for use in your film?
The answer is also simple: the individuals who created and recorded these pieces would likely care greatly if you “borrow” their work to be used in your work. Even using a small snippet could place you in violation of U.S. copyright law. Sure, you could be slapped with a lawsuit, potentially draining your college savings via legal fees — but worse? You’ll find that your film would be disqualified from The Scoopys festival participation.
How do you avoid such a disaster?
Be clear on what you legally can and cannot use. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has a very useful FAQ for student and independent filmmakers.
And, for the absolute authority on copyright, check the United State Copyright Office.
What can you use?
There are a wide variety of places you can go to get information or content to assist you in your filmmaking. A few suggestions:
GUIDELINES: Layola Marymount University has created a helpful PDF entitled, “Copyright, clearances & student filmmaking” that provides in-depth information regarding the best ways to proceed in your filmmaking.
MUSIC: If writing music is not your forte, performer Moby has created a site offering songs that are free and available for student film use.
IMAGES: The Creative Commons of the Unites States also offers license-free images and works that others have designated available for general use. Search the Creative Commons here.