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Copyright & Licensing

Use of Copyrighted Material

The use of unlicensed content published on university owned platforms creates liability exposure. This content includes, but is not limited to unlicensed music, audio files, video footage, photography, images and graphics.

Anyone creating content as a member of the Cornell community must collect the proper permissions when using any copyrighted material in creative projects, including identifying the sources of music and image files that are used in video production and obtaining appropriate licenses.

It is the responsibility of each college, school, department or unit to ensure its faculty, staff or students are aware of these guidelines and are not creating or posting digital media assets to official university websites or affiliated new media accounts without first obtaining the proper licenses or permission.

How is this different from fair use?

Principles of fair use protect reasonable uses of materials in the context of teaching, scholarship and research. However, outside of these settings, fair use has limited application. For example, fair use generally does not apply for videos or multimedia created by colleges, departments or students for informational or promotional purposes. In most situations, these uses require permission and often the payment of fees for at least one, and typically two, separate licenses.

Licensing Guidelines

You should familiarize yourself with the licensing guidelines below before beginning a multi-media project. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. Detailed questions should be directed to

Performances on campus: Cornell holds campus-wide licenses that allow copyrighted music to be performed on campus. However, these licenses do not cover the inclusion of music in a video or the posting of music or performances on social media or other websites.

Posting recorded music to a website or social media: To post recorded music on a website or social media channel or to make recorded music available online, a “mechanical license” must be obtained from the person or entity that owns the rights.

Combining music with visual images (i.e. adding music to a video): Combining music with visual images, for example, in a video, requires additional licenses: 

  • If you will be performing a song or musical composition yourself or having someone else perform it for you, you will need a "synchronization license." These are also called "synchronization rights” and must be obtained from the music publisher.
  • If you will be using a specific pre-existing sound recording of a song, you will need a "master use license,” in addition to the synchronization license. A master use license is obtained from the artist or record label.
  • Photo, Video, Illustrations & Graphics: Images, video or other visual assets used in multimedia production may only be used with the owners’ permissions. Do not assume you are able to use anything “posted to the internet.” It is your responsibility to obtain permissions or otherwise verify the assets are free to use.

Additional Resources

We recommend using only music, audio, video footage or photography that is in the public domain, is purchased for use with the appropriate licenses or was originally created by Cornell University. When seeking a license, remember to allow for adequate lead time. It can take many weeks to process a request, and a license may never be granted because copyright holders are under no obligation to license their works.

Members of the Cornell community can use Cornell-created photography and video resources, available at

There are music catalogue services on the web that individuals or units can engage with directly. There are also stock photo, images and videos available through vendors, such as iStockphoto, Adobe Stock, and Shutterstock.

For additional copyright information, visit