Empowering Media That Matters
Home >> Blog >> Question Month >> Fair Use Question About Non-Profits Using Music

Fair Use Question About Non-Profits Using Music


Dear CSM, I am interested in streaming audio on my organization's website. More specifically, we want to stream a song on each of our issue pages. We want to find songs that reflect our positions on issues. What kind of music can we stream? We are a tax exempt 527 organization.


- "Green Change"


The Supreme Court generally considers three things when deciding whether a use of someone else’s copyrighted material is fair or not. These include whether the use is transformative, i.e. whether the use changed the context of the original material or not, whether the use has an effect or could have an effect on the copyright holder’s ability to accrue a profit, and whether or not the length or quantity of the use is appropriate or gratuitous.

In this case, because it sounds like the use may not be transformative, since it is simply underscoring a particular viewpoint rather than recontextualizing it -- and because you wish to use the entire song, the filmmakers who designed the principles and limitations for the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement wouldn’t view this use as fair.

The fact that you are a non-profit doesn’t make a critical difference, although the fact that your use is non-commercial (if that’s the case) might help, at the margin. Non-profits aren’t always non-commercial – what matters is whether you are selling product or not.

You would want to read the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement for the principles and limitations that guided documentarians’ thinking, for some help in making your decision. If you believe that the use is not fair, then your choices are to compose or commission new music, to license the song, or to find a Creative Commons-licensed song or one in the public domain that could fit well with your website.

Please refer to the "Yes You Can" document to find out what is in the public domain; you can also find songs under creative commons licenses at creativecommons.org. Just be sure to comply with the license before uploading the song to your site—usually, this compliance is in the form of attribution.

- The Center for Social Media

For more answers please visit our Frequently Asked Questions.