Asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Minnesota

Q: I want to use a section of a song with the lyrics removed and dubbed over audio of my student film, is it fair use?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: Using a section of a song in your student film, even with the lyrics removed and dubbed over, can be complex when considering fair use provisions. Fair use is determined by factors such as the purpose and character of your use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. For educational purposes, like a student project, fair use might apply, but it heavily depends on how the work is used and presented.

It's important to note that simply removing the lyrics does not automatically qualify the use as fair or exempt from copyright infringement. The underlying musical composition is still protected by copyright, and its use could potentially impact the copyright holder's rights. When considering fair use, it's crucial to evaluate whether your use of the song adds new expression or meaning and is used for a non-commercial, educational purpose.

Before proceeding, it might be beneficial to seek permission from the copyright holder to avoid any legal issues. Many copyright holders are willing to grant licenses for educational or non-commercial uses, sometimes even for free or for a minimal fee. Additionally, exploring royalty-free or Creative Commons-licensed music as an alternative could provide a simpler solution for your student film project.

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