Frequently Asked Questions
What is Free Music Archive?
Free Music Archive (FMA), founded in 2009 by radio station WFMU, offers free access to open licensed, original music. Many curators, netlabels and independent musicians around the world contributed to FMA's success. Tens of millions of visitors every month download, share and/or re-use music from FMA in videos, podcasts, films, games, apps and even school projects. More on FMA's philosophy and mission, see our About page. Free Music Archive is part of the Tribe of Noise family since September 2019.
What do you mean by "FREE" music?
You don't need to create an account, you can download and listen to music without paying (with your private data).
FREE doesn't mean you are free to use, alter or build upon all songs without any conditions. Most of the music on Free Music Archive is licensed under one of the popular Creative Commons licenses. This means the music is copyright protected and some conditions apply before you can re-use the song. Interested to learn more? Check the License Guide.
How can I tell which license is being used for a specific track?
First, click on the song title. This can be done from our search page, from a mix, or on the homepage.
Click track titles for more info. After you click the song title, you will find more info on the track page on the far right column.
How do Creative Commons licenses work?
There are several Creative Commons licenses, which allow varying degrees of use and impose varying requirements on users. To achieve this diversity of options while keeping things relatively simple, CC mixes and matches four key license terms: Attribution ("BY"), NonCommercial (“NC”), NoDerivatives (“ND”), and ShareAlike (“SA”).
A brief rundown of the terms: NC allows you to use the licensed work non-commercially (which means you need additional permission from the rightsholder before using the work for commercial purposes); ND means you cannot build upon or remix the work; SA allows you to remix a work so long as you share it under the same CC license that covers the original work; and BY requires you to give credit to the rights-holder when you use the work.
The CC licenses you most likely find on FMA:
CC BY: “You are free to share; copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and adapt for remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially. You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits. Attribution is required.”
CC BY SA: “You are free to share copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and adapt for remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially”. If you remix, transform or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original. Attribution is required”.
CC BY ND: “You are free to share copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
for any purpose, even commercially. If you remix, transform or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material Attribution is required”.
CC BY NC: “You are free to share copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, adapt remix, transform, and build upon the material. NonCommercial: you may not use the material for commercial purposes. Attribution is required”.
CC BY NC SA: “You are free to share copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. If you remix, transform or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material. You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits. Attribution is required”.
CC BY NC ND: “You are free share copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. NonCommercial: you may not use the material for commercial purposes. NoDerivatives: if you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material. You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits. Attribution is required”.
CC0: “You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. Attribution is required. Read more https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
How should I give attribution in my video project?
Every Creative Commons license requires giving appropriate credit; they all include, at the very least, “Attribution,” which means giving credit to the creator of the work.
This basically means you need to list the Title, Author, Source & License associated with the work (or TASL, if you are fond of acronyms). Here’s an example:
The licenses also suggest that you cite your sources in a way that is appropriate to the medium, meaning that you are encouraged to include attribution verbally if it’s in a podcast or broadcast, in the credits of a film, in the reference list of a research paper, etc. Where possible, link back to the original work, source and license to make it easier for your audience. If you cannot give attribution or do not want to, you must ask the artist for further permission.
Ok, so some licenses state "NonDerivative" only. But what exactly is a "Derivative work"?
Generally speaking, mashups and remixes are derivative works. Under Creative Commons licenses, incorporating a song into a video is a derivative work, too.
More specifically, "Derivative work" is a legal term that comes straight from the Copyright Act. Here's how the law defines it, in part:
"A 'derivative work' is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted."
For more on what is and isn't a derivative work, see the Creative Commons FAQ, "Does my use constitute a derivative work or an adaptation?"
What exactly does "NonCommercial" mean?
First of all, we are no authority on what counts as a commercial purpose, and neither are Creative Commons and their fleets of lawyers who created these terms. What matters is how the licensor and licensee interpret these things. Here's how Creative Commons explains this on their FAQ Wiki:
"CC's NonCommercial (NC) licenses prohibit uses that are 'primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.' Whether a use is commercial will depend on the specifics of the situation and the intentions of the user. In CC's experience, whether a use is permitted is usually pretty clear, and known conflicts are relatively few considering the popularity of the NC licenses. However, there will always be uses that are challenging to categorize as commercial or noncommercial. CC cannot advise you on what is and is not commercial use. If you are unsure, you should either contact the creator or rightsholder for clarification, or search for works that permit commercial uses. Please note that CC's definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term."
In many cases, this definition is easy to apply. Making a mix and giving it to your friend is a non-commercial use; making a mix and selling 100 copies of it isn't. Unfortunately, many cases aren't nearly that simple. This is particularly true online, where ad-supported blogs and other evolving revenue models have blurred the lines between NonCommercial and Commercial. When in doubt, ask the artist if they allow the type of use you have in mind.
I'm not sure about whether I have permission to make a certain use. Who should I contact?
As a general matter, checking with artist or curator is a good idea. Creative Commons and the FMA can't give you definitive answers about particular uses. Creative Commons simply makes available a group of pre-written licenses, and they generally don’t know anything about the specific works that are the subjects of CC licenses. Similarly, FMA doesn't know anything about the specific terms under which artists offer their music other than what the curators or artists tell us, which is expressed as the license displayed on a given track’s page.
How can I get in touch with FMA artists?
Some FMA artists offer their contact information here on the website. This makes is simple if you are interested in acquiring permissions beyond the scope of the license, or would like to show off your proud creations. Many artists don’t know where their works end up and are happy to see how their work has been remixed or re-used.
To look up an email address, first click on their artist name. This can be done from our search page, from a mix, or on the homepage.
Then, on the artist page, look below their bio for the "Email This Artist" button.
If you don't find contact info here, then we recommend a simple Google search for the artist or label in question. We often have luck with Facebook, Bandcamp, and Twitter accounts.
Is the music I find on the FMA free of copyright restrictions?
In most cases: NO! Works that aren't subject to any copyright restrictions are said to be in the public domain, which means you're free to do pretty much whatever you want with them. Some tracks in the FMA could be in the public domain for a couple of reasons. First, it's possible that its copyright term has expired. (Generally, until 2018, only works made prior to 1923 fall into this category). Second, it's possible that the work’s rights-holders have waived all their rights by using a CC0 license.
Most recorded music, however – including much of what you'll find on FMA – is copyrighted. If you find a Public Domain/CC0 song that you really want to use in your project, contact us first so we can have a look together.
How can I search the FMA by license type?
You can search for songs that allow for remixing, use in video, and commercial use or choose a specific CC license by using our search tool here.
What's the deal with the FMA-Limited license?
We are no longer using this license for new uploads but some songs on FMA are licensed under a FMA-Limited license, which gives users permissions only to download a song and listen to it privately. It's the most restrictive license you'll find here. Generally (though not exclusively), you'll only find it on newly released songs from established record labels. You cannot use these songs in video projects without additional permission from the artist or label.
I still have questions about what "NonCommercial" means. What do you recommend?
Reach out to the artist, explain your project, and ask for permission in writing. In the last decade, many media platforms and distribution services have entered the online arena, all with their own terms of services. So if your argument is still: "I don't get paid therefor it's not commercial", think again. The rightsholder might argue that gaining valuable traffic, more subscribers, receiving credits, sharing ad revenue, etc. should be seen as "commercial use". Try to align your intent and the intent of the rightsholder who uploaded and licensed the song.
Can I use this music for my internet radio station/gym/hold music/etc?
The music you can use depends on a lot of things. Here are just a few questions that come to mind.
1) Is your intended use commercial in nature? Does advertising revenue factor into your project/business, or are you promoting a product? If so, you can only use Creative Commons music that allows for commercial use.
2) How will you give the artists credit? Will you announce the artists’ names and the titles of their songs somehow? Most CC music requires attribution in a manner appropriate to the medium.
3) Will you also use Creative Commons in your project/business? If not, then you can't use the materials on our website that say "Share-Alike" without additional permissions.
4) Will you blend, remix or modify the songs? If so, you shouldn’t use “No Derivatives” works without further permission.
Those are some questions related to CC licenses. You also need to understand the rules for broadcasting music in your specific region. How to deal with collecting societies (royalties/fees) or other stakeholders who might (not) have been informed by the rightsholders about the CC licensed works? When in doubt, contact the artist.
What are the differences between "International" licenses and ones for specific countries like "United States"?
All Creative Commons licenses apply worldwide.
In past versions of these licenses (versions 3.0 and earlier), they would specify a country or specific jurisdiction to reflect the local nuances in laws. Both the country-specific (ported) and the international licenses are intended to be legally effective everywhere.
The latest suite of licenses (4.0) has been drafted with particular attention to the needs of international enforceability.
I used Creative Commons music in my video, but it was still flagged by YouTube's Content ID system. What now?
We're watching out for cases where artists are finding their music claimed by trolls who want to shake pennies out of YouTube's pockets. Since YouTube's Content ID prohibits indie artists from uploading and managing their own music, it makes FMA artists highly vulnerable to this possibility.
Some artists on FMA have started using YouTube's Content ID system to protect their intellectual property. This use does not conflict with the terms of a Creative Commons license.
When an artist licenses their music using Creative Commons on Free Music Archive, they retain their copyright but extend permissions for you to use their copyrighted content according to the terms of the license. They still retain their copyright and the ability to make money from their music. Free Music Archive cannot and does not license music, so we cannot change the terms of the licenses, nor can we address Content ID claims directly.
When your video is flagged, the best approach is to reach out to the artists themselves. Since artists can't manage their catalogues in YouTube's Content ID system directly, some may not even realize it's being claimed (or by whom). Some artists are happy to waive the third party rights flag for your specific video, upon seeing that you have correctly followed the terms of the license (ie, you've given credit, shared alike when necessary, followed non-commercial use guidelines, etc).
One of these artists is Dexter Britain, who has devoted an entire detailed section of his website explaining his decision to use Content ID, and how you can remove the third party claim from your video. There's more on this page of YouTube's FAQ, as well.
Why does this FAQ leave so much ambiguous? Can't you just tell me the answer?
We wish! Music copyright is one of the most complicated areas of copyright law. Creative Commons licensing is an attempt to offer permissions you don't need to ask for, as long as you follow the license terms explained here.
The FAQ provides general information about legal topics; it does not provide individual legal advice. FMA provides this information on an “as-is” basis. Use of this FAQ does not create an attorney-client relationship between the FMA and the user, and the FMA disclaims liability for damages resulting from its use.
Didn't find the info you needed? Contact us.