Sound Effects Copyright Survival Guide 5: Sharing Sound


We’ve reached the final article in the series of copyright and sound effects libraries.

Previously we’ve looked at the basics of copyright, how copyright affects using sound libraries, how copyright works with your own sound effects collection, and copyright hazards while field recording.

You have a sound library. You want to share it. However, you know you need to protect your hard work. How do you do this?

Today’s article will explain how to protect your library while sharing sound effects. I’ll include specific steps you need to take.

Three Ways to Share Sound Effects

There are three ways you can share a sound effects library. They are:

  1. Selling your library as a buyout to a distributor.
  2. Sharing your library on your own website.
  3. Selling your library on another site for commission.

Each of these is distinct from the others, and requires you to protect your library differently. Let’s see how.

  1. Buyout
  2. When you are sharing your sounds via buyout, you are selling ownership of your recordings to someone else. In most cases, this will be a sound effects DVD publisher, or a large Web shop.

    A buyout gives ownership of the sound collection to the buyer. So, even though you have recorded the sound effects, you are transferring all rights to them. The buyers usually pay handsomely for this privilege.

    So, copyright and buyouts is actually quite simple. For a large fee, you transfer all copyright to the buyer. In some cases, the buyer will let you keep a copy and use it in personal projects as a courtesy. They may even send you a copy of the final DVDs, and give you credit on the box, or their website. If your name carries weight (i.e., lots of credits), it’s reasonable to ask for some compensation to use your name. After all, your name, reputation, and quality is a draw itself.

  3. Selling on Your Own Website
  4. Perhaps you want to sell sound effects in your own Web shop. What do you need to protect your library?

    This is done by creating a user licence. Remember, as we saw earlier, when you are sharing sound effects, customers are not paying for the data file itself. They are paying for the right to use the sound. A licence grants this right. So, in other words, you are selling licences, not sounds, per se.

    This license is called the End User Licence. It is delivered to the customer in the form of an End User Licence Agreement (EULA). Often customers on Web shops implicitly agree to the licence when they make a purchase.

    To protect your library this way, you need to create two pages on your website:

    • A Terms and Conditions page. The outlines the rights of the Web shop, and of people who visit. It usually includes language along the lines of “By using this website you agree…” and then lists the rights. In other words, it explains that visitors automatically agree that you own the sounds, that they will use them only in the way you allow, and will abide to the EULA after buying them.
    • An End User License Agreement page. This page lists what can and cannot be done with the sounds. It is up to you to decide what you want to include. Examples:
      • You may wish to allow people to use your sounds only in synchronization, when mixed with other audio or video.
      • You may wish to let anyone use your sounds however they wish, such as public domain sound effects.
      • Are they royalty-free, or do you require a fee each time your clips are used?
      • Do you require your name be included every time the sound effects are used? This is known as attribution.
      • Are customers allowed to use them only in multimedia projects, but not toys or manufacturing?
      • Is it allowed to broadcast your jungle recordings on a radio station?
      • What rights do you grant? Options include mechanical rights, publishing rights, performance rights, and synchronization rights.

      Whichever you decide, it must be described in the EULA. See the earlier article for ideas of what you can include.

    • See Airborne Sound’s Terms and Conditions page, and the Licence page for examples.

      Not interested in hiring a lawyer to sort everything? A more modern option is to include a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that helps people create licences and protect and copyright their work. Their website generates language and badges that specify how your creation can be used, whether attribution is required, and if you need compensation for it. Use the language or badges beside your creations. See the grey badge at the bottom of this article for an example.

      It’s also a good idea to include a PDF copy of the EULA, or the Creative Commons licence in the download package of every sound you sell.

    These two pages describe how your sound library is protected, and how it can be used when it is licensed.

    Are you simply posting samples of your field recording experiments? Include this information anyway. Link to a detailed copyright page elsewhere. It’s best to be clear. You don’t want someone to mistakenly believe that your field recordings are in the public domain.

  5. Selling on Another Website
  6. Perhaps you are too busy to create, host, and manage your own Web shop. However, you still want to share sounds. You can do this by partnering with an existing Web shop. They will list your library, and you will receive a percentage when your sounds sell there.

    How do you protect your library in this situation? There are two ways.

    1. A partnership agreement. This is the contract that a Web shop and yourself sign before you begin to work together. They’re quite complex. Ensure that it explains that you retain ownership, when you get paid and how much, how long the agreement lasts, how it can be cancelled, and what sounds it includes.
    2. The Web shop’s EULA. This is often overlooked. Most people sign agreements based on the royalty percentage they’ll receive. An ironclad contract agreeing that you will be paid means nothing if the Web shop allows its users to share or resell your sound effects. Review their EULA and ensure that they allow their customers to use your library in a way you approve.

    Review the agreement closely. Study the Web shop’s EULA. Educate yourself about the details of how your library will be used before you sign an agreement.

Share Good Audio, But Protect Yourself

Your sound library is precious. It has potential to be used and experienced by people across the globe. Describe your vision for the scope of your library. This protects you, and also helps others use it properly. It creates a simple, smooth foundation for creating, sharing, and using sound effects.

Remember, this isn’t legal advice. It’s a guideline. It arms you with the knowledge you need to dig deeper and discover the legalities needed in your own country or state. When in doubt, meet with a lawyer to be sure. The investment of time and cash will pay off in the long run.

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