Royalty-free music vs copyright-free music vs claim-free music

Copyright issues have been a long-running pain in the a**, ahem sorry, annoyance for content creators on YouTube. No matter whether you’re a big or small creator, you’ve probably had the odd moments of wanting to tear your hair out trying to use music in your videos. Heck, even extremely popular, experienced creators like MrBeast have been through this. (MrBeast once said he lost more than five figures on a video, only because he quoted the lyrics “livin’ on a prayer”). So how can you make sure that doesn’t happen to you? Well, as a content creator, you’ve probably heard of the terms ‘ royalty-free music’ ‘copyright-free music’ and ‘claim-free music’. Often, these terms are used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same! 

The big similarity between all of them is that they essentially mean you pay upfront for music and don’t have to worry about ongoing payments every time you use that piece of music. However, there are some major differences between them, and knowing the difference will ensure you don’t get copyright claims or strikes, lose your ad revenue, have your video blocked or even get sued… So, let’s explain what they all mean!

royalty-free music vs copyright-free music vs claim-free music

Music Basics

Before we dive in too deep, it would be good to have a basic understanding of how music (copyright) works. Music is an original work and so, when it is created, it also creates a ‘copyright’. This copy right (literally “right to copy” or in other words simply ‘use’) belongs to the original creator of the music. Whether that’s the songwriter or the artist that performed on the recording.

Usually with copyright, in order to use it, you’d need to pay an upfront fee and/or royalties. Royalties can be described as something similar to rent. When you’re renting somewhere, you are paying someone to use a space that someone else (your landlord) owns. 

With music, it’s exactly the same principle: you’re paying to use a song that someone else owns. Usually, this will be a small fee every time you play or use the song.

Where do claims come in? Well, if you’ve been a content creator for a while, or even if you’ve only started recently, you’ll probably be familiar with this term already. A copyright claim is what happens when you use copyrighted music on YouTube but haven’t taken the necessary steps to use it legally. In this case, content ID will pick up the music in your video and issue a copyright claim. Unfortunately, getting a copyright claim means that your video could be demonetized or blocked. You could even get sued! Obviously, no one wants that…

However, if you have correctly and legally licensed some music, you should be all set with your copyright and royalties. As a content creator (especially on YouTube), this means that even though you’re using copyrighted music, you won’t get a copyright claim.

So now you know the basics, let’s talk about royalty-free music, copyright-free music and claim-free music.

Royalty-Free Music

Royalty-free music


Again, as a content creator, this is a term you’re likely familiar with. But what is a good royalty-free definition? Well, let’s come back to what we said before about royalties being a small fee you pay every time you use a song. It’s as simple as those royalties not existing. And so, you no longer have to pay that small fee each time.

Perhaps you use what you would call ‘Royalty-free music’ in your YouTube videos at the moment. Funnily enough, most of the companies selling ‘Royalty-free music’ don’t actually, technically, have royalty-free music. 

Generally, what they do is commission songwriters & musicians to create and/or record tracks that they then buy off of them. In this scenario, the original creator of the music never owns the copyright. Instead, the company does as they were the ones to commission it and they pay the songwriter/artist/musician to create it. 

As the company owns the copyright, they can make the decision how to charge for the use of it. They can decide to not claim royalties and instead offer you music at a single, upfront cost or even a cost calculated into a subscription fee. No strings attached, no ongoing payments, seemingly ‘royalty-free’. 

What is royalty-free music like?

So what’s the downside? Unfortunately, as most ‘royalty-free’ music is commissioned, it’s often what some may call elevator music or ‘Muzak’. It’s usually simple background music or perhaps soundalike tracks (= tracks that are made to sound kinda similar to popular music). 

It does not include any songs made by popular artists or bands and so they aren’t tracks you’d recognize. However, if you’re just looking for some simple background music, perhaps this could work for you.

You might also be able to find some free royalty-free music, which means the tracks will be entirely free. That being said, you get what you pay for… We think your content deserves more than that, but hey – it’s up to you!

Copyright-Free Music

Copyright-free music


Now we can pit royalty-free vs copyright-free music! Copyright-free music (or non-copyrighted music) generally means that there is no copyright whatsoever… at least not anymore. This is possible because copyright has a shelf life. 

Once a copyright expires, it enters what’s called the public domain. This public domain music now belongs to the public and because of that, anyone can use it freely. 

So when does copyright expire you ask? There’s some more basic music copyright knowledge to know here (yes, okay we get it – it’s boring – but stick with it! You’ll understand everything a lot better if you do). 

There are actually two different types of copyright in music. The copyright in the song (this is the concept of the song, the music, notation, the lyrics etc. Basically everything a songwriter creates). This is called the publishing right. 

Now, you may be aware that the songwriter and the artist/performer of a song are not always the same person. Therefore, there’s a separate copyright for the person who performs the song on the recording. This is a master right.

There are a few ways in which copyright in music can expire:

  1. The last person (or people) who wrote the song died more than 70 years ago.
  2. The recording was made more than 70 years ago

Usually, this means you might be able to get a piece of classical music and not have to pay for the publishing right. You’ll likely still have to pay for the recording copyright though, as most recordings are from less than 70 years ago. This could save you around 50% of the license price as you’re only paying for half of the copyright (make sense?). 

Unfortunately, it means the type of music you can get your hands on will be quite outdated, and/or you’ll still have to pay something for it anyway. You definitely won’t get any Dua Lipa or Lewis Capaldi copyright-free. If you’re fine with that though, perhaps this is an option for you. You’ll just have to make sure to do some research!

On YouTube, copyright-free music can sometimes be very useful. For example, if you wanted to sing happy birthday in your video, at least you wouldn’t get a copyright claim for that because it was written over 70 years ago! (You also wouldn’t have to pay for a recording because you sang it yourself).

Claim-free Music

Claim-free music on Lickd

Claim-free music (or ‘no copyright claim music’) is arguably the most interesting and important term you should know as a content creator. When it comes to music that is. As we covered earlier, a copyright claim is what happens when you use copyrighted material in your content, but haven’t taken the necessary steps to use it legally. With claim-free music, you’re ensured that you won’t get a copyright claim. And, when it comes to YouTube, that means you get to keep all your ad revenue. Whooohooo!

What’s the difference between copyright-free and royalty-free?

So how does claim-free differ from royalty-free and copyright-free music you ask? Well, copyright-free music is fine because it doesn’t have any copyright, so you can’t get a copyright claim on it. Royalty-free on the other hand does have copyright protection, so just because something is royalty-free doesn’t mean it’s claim-free! You’ll have to make sure you get a license for the use of this copyrighted music.

Here’s a summary of the differences between the three:

Royalty-free music vs copyright-free music vs claim-free music

Claim-free specific music

What other claim-free music is there then? New innovations in both music and Content ID integrations driven by Lickd mean that there’s now a whole load more music available for you to use on YouTube. This is popular music – yes tracks you’ll actually recognize from top artists and bands! The best thing is, it’s all claim-free and you don’t have to pay royalties on it. 

How is this possible? Well, Lickd has worked hard to bring music and content creation together by convincing artists, labels and music publishers to make their music available for you. Artists available include everything from Dolly Parton to Megan Thee Stallion, Sia to XXXTentacion and a whole bunch in between! Licenses start from as little as £6 so take a look at some of our playlists here or search for your favourite artists here.

Case studies have shown that using Lickd music can increase views by 23%, ad revenue by 17%, comments by 235% and shares by 600% (when compared to using royalty-free or copyright-free music). Lickd is also offering you 25% off your first track, so you can try it out for yourself and see what happens. What do you have to lose?

Content and SEO Marketing Manager

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