sound effects and copyright

Are Sound Effects Copyrighted?

Sound effects are an essential tool for content creators and video producers. Sound effects can take your videos and content to a new level when used well.

As a general rule, sound effects are copyrighted. Similar to music copyright, sound effects are created and recorded and therefore are the IP (intellectual property) of the creator.

Thankfully, good quality and safe to use sound effects are widely available to be downloaded.

Just like music, as long as you follow the terms of use of the sound effect library or provider, you can use sound effects legally and safely in your content.

Here are some of the most important aspects of using sound effects in your content and ensuring that they do not result in a copyright strike against you.

Can you get copyrighted for using sound effects?

When working with sound effects, it is best to treat them just like you would treat a piece of music.

It is possible to receive a copyright strike or be in breach of copyright law if you use sound effects without the permission of the copyright owner.

Just like music, once a sound effect is created and recorded it is a copyrighted work.

However, because sound effects are often short or used sparingly in content and videos, many do not realise that they are copyrighted and the permission of the sound effect copyright holder must be obtained in order to use the sounds legally.

Just like music, you need the permission of the sound effect copyright holder to use sound effects.

Thankfully, there are lots of royalty-free sound effect libraries online, where you can download high-quality royalty free sound effects to use in your content.

Royalty-free sound effects are typically sound effects that you can use in your content, multiple times and forever without paying any royalties.

There is no standard definition of “royalty-free”, so it is best to double-check with your chosen library that the sound effects you download tick the following boxes:

  1. Can be used multiple times in different projects as you really want to reuse your sound effects.
  2. Can be used forever.
  3. Are royalty free, so no future royalties will need to be paid.
  4. Can be used for commerical use, or in other words, media projects that you are making money from.

Here is a royalty-free sound effect library that I personally recommend. These guys have a great variety of high-quality sounds that can be used as many times as you wish in your projects without any additional royalty fees:

sound effect pack

Are video game sound effects copyrighted?

Video games have amazing sound effects! Think of any shooter game such as “Call of Duty” and the awesome atmosphere the sound effects create.

As a general rule, video game sound effects are copyrighted. Video game sound effects are carefully created and recorded and copyright belongs to whoever created and recorded the sounds.

Therefore, if you do copy some gunshot sound effects from your favourite video game and use them in your own projects without gaining permission from the copyright holder, you are in breach of copyright law.

Again, think of sound effects like music.

Video game production houses spend a lot of time, money and creative energy in creating sound effects to create the best game experience. Therefore, video game developers are going to want to control their sound effects and therefore, the copyright of their sound effects carefully.

Their sound effects are one of their assets that has significant monetary value and are protected from unauthorised use by copyright law.

What can I do if I have used sound effects without permission?

If you have found yourself in a position where you have used sound effects in a project and are unsure if you have the necessary permissions, it is best to replace the sound effects with new sound effects that you have the right to use.

For example, the following royalty free sound effects is a safe and legal sound effect library that can replace uncleared sound effects that you may be currently using.

sound effect pack

Just ensure that you are replacing existing sound effects with ones that you have permission to use!

Always check the terms of use of any royalty free sound effect library to ensure you are copyright safe.

How can you prove sound effect copyright infringement?

You could argue that many individuals use sound effects illegally without the necessary copyright permissions as it is very difficult to audibly identify sound effects.

Unlike a piece of music with a very distinctive melody, sound effects can be trickier to identify.

However, with the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms to identify the digital signature of audio, “bots” such as the YouTube Content ID system can scan thousands of audio files every day looking for audio matches and any potential copyright conflicts.

We may not be there just yet, but I believe that sound effects could become a real problem if not properly cleared in the future.

Although to the general listener a range of “gunshot” sound effects may sound the same, however looking at the audio signature will clearly identify it.

sound effect waveform

Are sound effects on YouTube copyrighted?

The YouTube Audio Library has a good range of free and copyright safe to use sound effects for your videos on YouTube.

The sound effects on YouTube are copyrighted, but they are safe to use on YouTube.

To learn more about free music and sound effects for YouTube, the YouTube Audio Library and how you can use their sound effects in your YouTube videos, I have covered this is greater depth in the following article:

Can I use any sound effect if I am not making money?

Permission to use sound effects music be obtained regardless of the profit of a project.

According to copyright law, whether you are making money or not, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder to use sound effects in your projects.

Thankfully, with the abundance of royalty-free sound effects online, it is very easy to find affordable, if not free to use, royalty-free sound effects.

Here is a link to an article listing the best places to find free game sound effects:

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