Music Guidelines for Photo Shows

PSA Members may see a list of music reference sources from the link on the left menu on this page, after login


  • List the music credits at the end of your photo show
  • Only use music with relevant permissions and licenses 

Due to copyright laws, you must be knowledgeable on how to choose the music for your photo slideshows and videos. It is the copyright holders (e.g. record labels, music publishers, or artists) who make the decision for the kinds of permissions or licenses they grant to each song. Because it can be difficult to find out what the copyright holders would allow, you have to make a decision.

The alternative is royalty-free music. 

  • Royalty-free songs come with the information about where they can be used. 
  • Royalty-free music can be free or cost money.
  • Royalty-free music resources can be accessed from the top of this page. 

Personal Use: Personal use means listening at home, in the car, on an iPod, and similar. Commercial Use: Using music on the internet is considered commercial use. Playing a photo show with music is a commercial use.
Permissions and Licenses: Copyright holders license their music for either personal or commercial use or both, for one-time use or longer, for a fee or no fee which depends on the use, and often specify how their credits should read. Therefore, it is important for the photographer to check the license for each piece of music carefully.
Permission to use copyrighted music is NOT automatically granted 

  • simply by buying an audio CD
  • simply by buying music off the Internet
  • simply by acquiring music for no cost

Permission to use copyrighted music IS granted 

  • if the music is owned by a US author was published before 1924 and has gone into the public domain 
  • if royalty free licensing has been granted to the music
  • if the royalties have been paid to the composer, performers, and publishing company
  • if the copyright is held by the user 

For more detailed information about using music, see

Carole Kropscot, APSA, has been appointed as the Royalty Free Music Coordinator to offer assistance. The user's responsibility is to know the music's copyright status and to take the time to search for, listen to, and choose the music. Contact Carole if you have questions.

A Legal View of Using Music

PSA copyright lawyer Nancy Wolff, Esq., provided the following legal opinion concerning the use of music in programs of any kind at PSA conferences, on the PSA website, or for any other PSA activities.

"Music can be a particularly difficult terrain to navigate. Once you incorporate music with images, you require a synchronization license, and if you are streaming it, you may also need a public performance license (for example, ASCAP/BMI) if the entity playing the music doesn't have one. With respect to the synchronization license, you need a license from all applicable music publishers for the writer or writers that wrote the song and lyrics (or from the writers themselves if there is no publisher). In addition, if you are using the original recording, as opposed to your own re-recording the composition itself, you need to get a separate license from the owner of the recording, which is often the label. The relationships and process can be very complicated, and using licensed royaltyfree music can help save the time and effort that can be involved. But if you want to comply with copyright law, then you almost always need permission to use any popular music. Exceptions for personal use, noncommercial use and fair use are extremely limited and should be thoroughly reviewed by a copyright expert before relying upon them, particularly in using music in conjunction with visual works where it is very unlikely that use of the music will be considered fair use or otherwise insulated from copyright liability."