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Images, Music, & Copyright

A guide to finding legally reusable images and sounds.

Copyright & Music Sites

As with images and text your use of recorded sounds is most clearly legally viable when you have created the recording yourself. 

Music and other recorded sound is covered by US Copyright Law, and the Fair Use provisions of US Copyright Law, in much the same way that text and images are. Copyright law applies to music and lyrics, as well as in a performance (Title 17 USC, Chapter 11).

  • For example, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” in 1787, long enough ago that it is obviously in the public domain. This recording of it was originally made on December 17, 1936 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and their copyright on that recording has apparently lapsed, enabling it to be digitally copied to the Internet Archive. But copyright law gives a digital version its own copyright from the moment it is created (i.e. "fixed in an immutable form"), necessitating the use of a Creative Commons 'Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike' License for legally-uncomplicated distribution of a clearly Public Domain work.

Note: Under Creative Commons licenses synching music to images is 'transforming the music', so you cannot legally use a song with a CC "No Derivative Works" license (a CC BY-ND 4.0 or a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) in a video. You need to use music that is licensed under a CC0, a CC BY 4.0, a CC BY-SA 4.0, or possibly a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, license. Always make sure to properly credit the musician and the track, as well as express the CC license the track is under.


The following sites offer music, often under a Creative Commons License, for your reuse:

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is an ever-expanding digital library with older versions of websites and other cultural artifacts.  Items in these archives are intended to be listened to or viewed; information on other reuse is often available beside the streaming or download link, and additional information is available here. The search options for audio include:

  • The Live Music Archive is an online public library of live recordings available for royalty-free, no-cost public downloads. Only material by trade-friendly artists - those who like the idea of noncommercial distribution of some or all of their live material - is hosted.  You may download from the Live Music Archive with the understanding that the artists still hold their copyrights. All material is strictly noncommercial, both for access here and for any further distribution.
  • The main Audio Archive content is streamable or downloadable, and some of it is labled for reuse with a Creative Commons License.
  • The Moving Image Archive contains digital movies, ranging from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts.  Many of these videos are available for free download.