I Like the Sound of That! Using Music Legally in Classroom Videos

One of my EDUC 514 (Video in the Classroom) alumni just sent me an email about adding a soundtrack to a video for his classroom. The question is perfectly worded: How do I insert (good) music without the legal entanglements?
First, a quick primer on fair use.

Speak-into-the-microphoneThe Center for Social Media focuses on fast-changing environment for public media. The following is paraphrased from their page Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video: Fair use is flexible; it is not uncertain or unreliable. In fact, for any particular field of critical or creative activity, lawyers and judges consider expectations and practice in assessing what is “fair” within the field. Ask yourself,

“Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?”

If you can answer “yes”, then you may use video in your classroom. This article discusses the implications of fair use of video in the classroom. Here are the cliff notes:

  1. You need permission to use music that you didn’t write.
  2. You can’t use music from your iTunes library. You have the power to do so, but not the permission.
  3. Lots of people don’t care about the legal side of using music in school projects. You do.
  4. There are amazing sites that offer free music. They’re creative commons, so give credit when you use the tunes.

Here are my three favorite places to go to find music that rocks and music that I’m allowed to use:


Jamendo is a platform for independent artists to share their work. Anyone in education can use songs on this website as long as credit is given. I think of Past Bill (a younger version of myself, probably about 20 years old), and imagine that he would be insanely stoked that a website like this exists where moviemakers and students can use songs that Past Bill wrote.

Moby Gratis

Moby (yes, the Moby) created Moby Gratis created this project for “anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.” How cool is that!? The answer: very.


Kevin MacLeod created Incompetech Music because “there are a lot of schools with no money, and plenty of film makers who want to have music – but can’t afford to clear copyrights from the existing systems that are set up. I believe that copyright is badly broken, so I chose a license that allows me to to give away the rights I wish to surrender.” The answer to nearly every FAQ on his site: Anyone can use any of my music in any project.


Write your own music. Use GarageBand. It’s amazing. Here’s a tutorial:

So, get out there. Shoot some video. Add some amazing, licensed music. Change the world. Rinse. Repeat.

Click on Me! Create Interactive YouTube Videos.

Videos are traditionally linear and directive. In the classroom, videos are designed to either dispense information or teach the viewer a new skill. However, great lessons are rarely passive. Using the annotations feature in YouTube, teachers can create videos that require participation. At its most basic, students are given four choices, and they select the correct answer. If an incorrect choice is made, students watch a new video that reteaches the concept. If the correct choice is made, the initial video links a new video that shows the next step, or the next problem. Going deeper, the first video can link to several choices, and each of those choices can link to several choices.

Create an interactive video, where the initial video links to two other videos. YouTube Annotations will be leveraged to build interactivity into the videos. Unfortunately, Annotations is only available on desktop computers. Mobile users will view the initial video, but Annotations are not currently supported on mobile devices.

1. Introduction to the interactive genre
• The Time Machine: An Interactive Adventure!
example of interactive YouTube video
• Tell a story!
a. Write a story
b. Correct answers move story along
c. Real-life problems
d. Flow chart

2. Classroom examples
• Chemical Reactions (high school chem)
a. Complete a chemical reaction equation
b. Select the correct answer (out of 4)
c. Incorrect answers show the real-life experiment failing with the incorrect chemical
d. Correct answers show the real-life experiment succeeding and the final chemical created
• We’re in Treble! (beginning music notation)
a. A new musician begins an adventure
b. Along the way, clues are given, problems are encountered, and the viewer must correctly identify correct music notation to keep the plot moving along.
c. Incorrect answers change the plot of the video, beginning with a brief, in-character reteaching lesson.
• Enter the Welcome Wagon (2nd grade social studies)
a. Students will read a map, and give directions to the nearby library.
b. Student choices will affect the driver’s choices, and the path on the map.
c. Dozens of choices are possible for students, giving them freedom to “drive” through a small town, video clip-by-clip, and learn how to navigate Cartesian coordinates.

3. How to Create an Interactive Video
Together as a group:
• Plan! Create flowchart showing various paths/choices.
• Record and upload separate videos. Add videos to a playlist.
• Make first video public and all others unlisted.
• Use annotations to add links to end of scenes.
• If right, continue with story/lesson. Rewards: better story, better ending, higher-ordered thinking, more difficult problems.
• If wrong, reteach. Consequences: different story ending, slower video pace, less content.