As a non-profit, including music in your promotional content or at events can enhance and humanize the message you're trying to convey.

You can absolutely use copyright music for non-profit projects. To do so, you first need to understand the guidelines and restrictions governing music licensing to avoid problems with the law and possible repercussions.

You might think that since a non-profit isn't making any money from a project that incorporates copyrighted content, they are protected by fair use provisions. However, even if content  is not monetized, it can still be subject to copyright law.

We'll go over the fundamentals of music licensing for non-profits in this article, along with some helpful details on fair use clauses, to make sure you’re aware of everything you need to know about licensing music for your non-profit project.

When Does a Non-Profit Need a Music License?

For non-profits, you may need background music in your promotional content or have music playing at offline events to spread your organization’s message. Non-profit organizations need a music license when they use copyrighted music outside of the scope of fair use provisions. This means that if your organization is using copyrighted music in videos, events, or any other public setting, you'll need to obtain a license from the copyright holder (via a service like Track Club) or a performing rights organization (PRO) to avoid legal issues.

It's important to note that even if your non-profit organization is not making a profit from the use of copyrighted music, you still need a license. Your organization’s status as a non-profit doesn't automatically qualify your use of copyrighted music as fair use. Fair use is determined by four key factors we'll discuss later in this article, and non-profit status is not one of those factors.

Using copyrighted music without legal permission could lead to issues including a copyright infringement lawsuit and other repercussions. To avoid running into copyright violation problems, you must obtain a license from the copyright holders (via a service like Track Club) or use music in the public domain.

Music licensing organizations and performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC can also provide guidance and legal advice on licensing for usage of copyrighted songs in various contexts.

What is Fair Use?

According to U.S. copyright law, fair use is a legal principle that allows for the use of copyrighted music without the owner's permission under certain circumstances. These situations include using the work for research, news reporting, criticism, education, and other purposes to promote the progress of science as well as useful arts. The scope of fair use provisions is limited. Determining whether usage is allowed or not must be done on a case-by-case basis.

Fair use applies to all copyrighted content, including music. However, upholding fair use with music can be more complicated than other types of media like text or visuals.

There are four main factors that determine if the use of copyrighted materials falls under the definition of fair use.

What Qualifies as Fair Use?

The following factors from Section 107 of the Copyright Act are considered when determining whether or not content falls under fair use:

  • The intent and characteristics of the use: The use of copyrighted content is more likely to be recognized as fair use if the music is being utilized for instructional purposes or as part of a critique or commentary. Additionally, if music is being used in an innovative and transformative way that gives the original content additional meaning or value, it could potentially qualify as fair use. Typically, if copyrighted music is used in commercial settings, such as in advertisements or other for-profit contexts, it doesn't qualify as fair use. If you want to use music for these purposes you'll need to obtain the copyright holder's permission, normally through a license, to use the song legally.
  • The nature of the content: If the copyrighted work used relates to educational purposes and creative expression, it’s more likely to be determined as following fair use guidelines. A factual work, like a news report or a technical article, is typically more likely to be considered as fair use than a creative work, such as a video or film.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used: This factor considers how much of the copyrighted work is being used and whether the portion used is the "heart" or most important part of the work. Using a small portion of the work that's not central to the overall work is more likely to be considered fair use than using a large portion or the most important part of the work. That being said, there are cases where the whole work was used without problems, and on the flip side, there are instances where even small portions of the work being used did not fall under fair use.
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work: If the use of copyrighted material is likely to reduce the market value of the original work, the court evaluates the extent of the potential harm and can determine it to violate copyright.

To decide whether a specific use of a copyrighted work qualifies as fair use, courts not only consider each of these characteristics individually, but there may also be additional elements that are taken into account as well.

What Can Happen to Your Organization if You Use Copyrighted Music Without a License?

Unauthorized use of a copyrighted piece of music can have negative effects on your organization. You could become wrapped up in significant legal consequences with the rights owner, such as a copyright infringement lawsuit or other damage to your organization's reputation.

If the copyright holders find you using their copyrighted content without the required license (like one you would obtain via a Track Club subscription), you may receive a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. A DMCA takedown notice requires you to take down the infringing content, and if you fail to comply via the proper process, the copyright owners could potentially take legal action against you.

In a copyright infringement lawsuit, the copyright holders will prevent you from further using their copyrighted materials and may even seek monetary compensation, which can be substantial if they prove that your use of their content caused them to lose money or caused damages in other ways.

If you are found to be breaching the rights of the copyright owner, your company's reputation may suffer. To avoid these legal and reputational risks, it's essential to obtain the necessary licenses and copyright permission to use music legally.

How to License Music for Non-Profit Use

A music license is a contract that allows you to legally use a song in your content. The license may detail what you can use the music for, for how long, and where. Different licenses have different uses and specific permissions, so you’ll want to make sure the license you obtain fits the purpose of your project.

To license music for non-profit use, you’ll first need to identify the copyright owner of the tracks you wish to use. The copyright owners usually include the original composer, independent artist, record label, music publisher, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), and anyone else involved in the creative process or management of the songs.

Once you have identified the copyright owners, you can contact them directly to request a license for non-profit use. However, this process can be time-consuming, costly, and may not always be successful, especially if the owners are difficult to reach or unresponsive.

Public domain, royalty-free, and subscription licensed music are three types of music that non-profits can use to enhance their organization. Public domain music is music that is no longer protected by copyright. Royalty-free music is music with a one-time fee that can be used without paying ongoing royalties or fees for each use of the song. However, it's important to note that not all public domain and royalty-free music is suitable for non-profit use, and it's essential to verify the licensing terms before using the music.

Track Club, a music licensing subscription service, offers a meticulously curated small-batch catalog of unique, high-quality music for brands and creators. Our app features 100% customizable songs, many of which are produced in-house and go through multiple revisions to ensure the highest quality.

Easy Music Licensing for Non-Profits

Social media can be one of the most helpful mediums to help your non-profit organization spread its message. Depending on the platforms that your non-profit uses, the proper steps you should take when licensing music and rules to follow can vary. We’ve created detailed guides on how to easily license music for YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, streaming, and podcasts.

A Track Club subscription makes the music licensing process more efficient and cost-effective by granting unlimited sync music licenses for songs in the Track Club catalog, without needing to negotiate with the rights holders. You don’t have to pay any royalties or extra fees to license Track Club music - it’s all covered in your subscription. Additionally, Track Club subscriptions cover both online and offline use, so your non-profit doesn’t have to worry about obtaining individual licenses for different purposes.

Track Club provides Individual, Business, and Enterprise plans to cater to your needs, so simply choose your subscription and follow the prompts through the signup process. Once you’re signed up, use our smart filters to find the perfect song for your YouTube video. Then you can use MixLab to customize the song to best fit your video project.

Mistakes nonprofits make when using copyrighted music

  • Assuming that they can use copyrighted music without permission as long as they do not monetize their content. Non-profit organizations must obtain permission from the copyright owner or license the music they wish to use, regardless of whether the intention is commercial use or not.
  • Thinking that using music for educational or non-commercial purposes is fair use. While these uses may be considered fair use under certain circumstances, it is not a blanket exception to copyright law.
  • Using music that is not cleared for use in their specific context. For example, they may use music that was licensed for personal use, such as in a home video, but not for public use in a nonprofit event or promotion. Using music for a particular use without the proper licenses and permissions can result in legal consequences, such as a lawsuit or a copyright notice. Track Club’s Business Plan covers web, social media, podcast, internal, industrial and event use, so you won’t have to worry about not having the right permissions.


Non-profit organizations must be mindful of the rules and regulations surrounding music licensing to avoid facing legal consequences. Understanding fair use provisions, knowing when a license is required, and avoiding common mistakes can help your organization use music legally and responsibly. Track Club’s customizable small batch music library can help your organization leverage the power of music to further your cause and make a positive impact in your community.