Mar 28

Copyright and Audio Licensing for Beginners

Here at we see users from many professions and also at various levels of expertise using our sound effects and music. While some have an in-depth understanding of how copyright and audio licensing works, we see others who find the concepts confusing. Therefore I’ve written a short guide that hopefully explains the difference between copyright and licensing, what each means and why they’re important to understand and adhere to.

What this post will discus:.

  • The differences between copyright and a license.
  • What audio licensing is and why it exists.
  • Why it’s important and what it means to you.
  • How it affects your use of the audio you download and use from stock sound and music libraries like

This article isn’t a comprehensive guide, but an introduction to the basics for those new to using sound effects and music in their work.


Understanding Copyright

First up, copyright. So what exactly is copyright?

Copyright is an assigned legal right to a creation that is given to the creator. In this case, a sound effect or music track. Copyright is automatically assigned to any audio work for a fixed number of years, which is slightly different depending on the country it is published in. For example, in America and the UK, this term is the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years.

Unless the author has explicitly decided to waiver their copyright (and released their work into the public domain), then you should assume that any audio recording is under copyright.

Copyrights do not mean you cannot use a piece of audio in your work, which is sometimes one of the confusions we experience via our support channels. It simply means that someone else owns the copyright of the audio, but by publishing it on a sound library, they have granted permission for others to use it, via a license.

So the difference between copyright and a license is clear:

  • The copyright refers to the ownership of the rights to the audio
  • The license refers to the rights to use the audio, granted by the copyright owner.

The rights granted to you via a license will vary, depending on who is granting them. So it’s always important to read, understand and agree to these rights before using any audio.


Licensing Explained

Let’s imagine you’ve just parked your car in a car park. On the wall of the car park is a notice that states:

“Rules for parking your vehicle in this car park: Maximum stay = 3 hours. Penalty for overstaying = $50. The owner of this car park is not liable for any loss or damage to your vehicle, or its contents while parked here. Tickets are not transferable.”

This sign is an agreement that you legally agree to when using that facility and parking your vehicle there. This agreement is essentially a license granted by the car park owner to you, the user.

It’s quite clear that you do not gain ownership of the car park by using it. You’re just being granted the rights to park there, so long as you follow the rules stated in the notice.

Now, let’s bring the context of this back to you using sound effects or music from a library such as

By downloading a sound effect and using it in your work, you’re not gaining ownership of it but simply being allowed to use it so long as you follow the rules (the license).  The copyright does not stop you from using it, because the copyright owner/library is granting you permission.

The car park notice also states that “tickets are not transferable”. You can’t pay for a parking space and pass on your ticket to someone else if there’s an hour left on it. The ticket allows only your vehicle to park there for the agreed time. Another person has to buy their own ticket.

Again, this is the same when you download an audio track from a sound library. You’ve been granted the rights to use it. You can’t transfer those rights by passing it on to someone else. If they want to use it, they need to agree to the license themselves by signing into the library, agreeing to the license and downloading it personally.

While this explanation may seem a little strange, hopefully it explains that a license to use an audio track from a library is pretty straight-forward. You’ve simply been granted the right to use the audio as per the terms set out in the License. You likely come across licenses in your daily life all the time, from parking your car, paying rent on your home, streaming a movie on Netflix and so on.

Some of the terms you’ll see in audio licenses

As stated, not all licenses are the same. Some will have restrictions that others don’t, so it’s always important to make sure you read, understand and agree to the terms of any license before using the audio the license is granting use of.

Here are a few of the terms you’ll likely come across and what they mean:

Attribution or giving credit

This point isn’t something you’ll often find in a library that you pay a fee to download and use audio from. It’s more than likely in this case that there is not attribution or credit requirement. However, does have this requirement, unless you pay to upgrade your account, which removes this restriction.

What does attribution or giving credit mean? It simply means that by using the audio you agree to apply a notice in the work the audio is used in stating where it was obtained from, possibly the creator’s name and a link to the license. In’s case, a simple line of text stating the audio was obtained from is ample, but other attribution licenses differ.


The licensee is you, the person who is being granted the license to use the audio in their work.


The licensor is the creator or library, who is granting you the rights to use the audio in your work. It’s important to note that often, the library itself doesn’t own the copyright, but they are part of the distribution chain. The creator (copyright owner) has signed an agreement with the library and given them distribution rights. The library then grants you the rights to use the audio via their license.


When you agree to a license, you’ll be agreeing to indemnify (compensate) the library and/or creator for any breach of the license on your part if it results in any legal action or other damage or distress.


Most licenses have a clause stating you MUST NOT redistribute the audio. One point of confusion with ZapSplat’s license is often around this term. Redistribution in a license usually refers to taking the audio file as-is and sharing it with others by selling it, posting it on social media or any other file sharing platform, outside of a movie, game, animation, eBook etc. You can’t do this. But if the audio file is embedded into the work, to enhance the scene, add a background in a game, or offer navigational cues in a software platform etc, this is okay. So if your aim is to take a sound effect and share it with your friends, or give it away to others to use, then this is a breach of the license.

Breaching the terms of a license can result in legal action so you must make sure you stay within the boundaries of the license terms.


So, hopefully by reading this tutorial on the basics of licensing, it gives you a clearer understanding of exactly what you’re agreeing to when you download audio from a library and use it. Sometimes the terminology used can be a little overwhelming if you’re new to it, so it’s always wise to contact the library or creator of any audio you intend to use if you are unsure.

To summarise what we’ve learned:

  •    A license grants you the right to use the audio in your work.
  •    The license does not mean you gain ownership of the audio, just the right to use it.
  •    By downloading the audio, you’ve agreed to the terms in the license.
  •    You must not share the audio ‘as-is’.
  •    By breaching the terms of the license, you are liable for legal action.


If you have any questions about copyright or licensing, please let us know by contacting us. We are very happy to talk with you and help in anyway we can

About The Author

I'm the founder of and professional sound designer. I provide free sound effects for games, TV, radio, filmmaking, podcasts, YouTube and more. You can download all my sounds free as mp3 and wav files here at ZapSplat.

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Remember, you must credit us/provide attribution when using our sounds/music in your work. An example would be:

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