You may wish to include media, including music, sound effects, or other audio recordings in your podcast. These elements can add atmosphere and emotion to your podcast, or can provide texture and depth to a conversation on current events, history, or art by playing historic or contemporary primary source recordings. However, it is important to make sure to check whether the audio you want to incorporate is in copyright. 

If the material you wish to use is in copyright, you should make sure to ask for permission to use it and should be aware that sometimes there are fees associated with using copyrighted materials. We offer advice for creators seeking to use copyrighted materials in the Libraries’ Author Permissions Instructions. If you are writing to a copyright holder, you can also use the Media Permissions Form to ask for permission.   

If you are unable to locate the rights holder, fully document your attempts to make contact and share this documentation with your journal editor. This is called due diligence. Repeated attempts with no success are necessary to prove due diligence, which may allow use without a grant of permission.

Often you will be able to find and make use of materials that are out of copyright or that are appropriately licensed for use in your podcast. Here are some helpful tips about understanding how to recognize and use these works: 

  • Public Domain: Generally speaking, works published in the United States before January 1, 1924, and all U.S. Federal government publications are part of the public domain. No permission is required for their use, but you must cite the source of the material. Artworks enter the public domain in the U.S. 70 years after the death of the creator. You will need to fully investigate the source and usage terms of any “public domain” or “free use for scholarship” website from which you obtain an image. For help determining whether a work is in the public domain or requires copyright permissions.
  • Creative Commons: Materials marked with a Creative Commons license can be reused without permission or fees according to the terms of the license. Creative Commons licenses vary greatly by version, and every repository site (even if a recording is in the public domain) may have its own terms of use.
  • Fair use: Fair use is a provision in US copyright law stating that copyrighted material may, under certain circumstances, be used for purposes such as comment, criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder. For more information about how to apply fair use to your circumstances, consult Columbia University’s Copyright Advisory Services and their resources on fair use. If you feel that the discussion of an image or text excerpt in your article (or within the caption accompanying the image) may not provide sufficient context to legitimately claim fair use, consider strengthening the discussion or reducing the amount of quoted text. Fair use varies by country and by the particular facts of each publishing situation. The Fair Use Checklist may help you to decide whether your use of copyrighted material falls under fair use. 

Free Media Resources

Using copyrighted materials in an appropriate way can be tricky. You will need to make sure to ask for permission from copyright holders or be prepared to make a Fair Use argument about using a copyrighted work. 

Although there are not many sound resources in the public domain (works that are out of copyright and free for anyone to use) there are a few libraries of music and sound effects we can recommend that have openly licensed tracks or sounds available for educational use. Please pay attention to licenses for individual tracks and ask questions if you have them!


Sound Effects: