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Is It Illegal to Remix Music?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Aspiring DJs and music enthusiasts everywhere love original music, and they love it even more when it's remixed. But is it illegal to remix music?

Whether you're making mash-ups for your own personal playlist or getting ready to spin your first set at the club, your remix could end up being quite costly if a copyright holder sues you for infringement.

Here's what you need to know about music remixes and the law:

The main legal issue with remixes is that they are derivative works, meaning that they are derived mostly from other artists' songs.

In theory, this isn't an issue. But almost all music released for consumers has copyright protection, preventing remixers from making their own version of certain songs without permission.

Some songs exist in the public domain and are not protected by copyright (e.g., most classical music), but only the sheet music would be open for use, not the recordings.

In order to legally make a remix from copyrighted music, you need to:

  1. Buy a copy of the song(s). Pirated music is still illegal despite how easily it is to obtain.
  2. Obtain permission from the copyright holder. Each piece of recorded music has at least two copyrights: one for the song and one for the master recording. You need permission from both copyright holders in order to legally remix a copyrighted song.
  3. Make a record of permission. Even if it's just an email, you need some sort of written record that the copyright holder has allowed you to make a remix of his or her song.

Amateurs who want to just mix songs at home for their own personal use aren't likely to run into trouble if they fail to obtain permission, unless there's money involved.

Playing Your Remix in a Club

While you might have permission to make the remix from the copyright holder, you can't legally play your mix in a club without the performance rights.

Luckily for most DJs, the responsibility for paying the performance royalties typically falls with the club or bar owner and not the DJ. Still, venues won't exactly invite you back for another set if you get them sued.

Your actual performance with the remixed music may be covered by fair use, but the more you profit from the remix without getting the copyright holder's permission, the more likely that you are breaking the law, or will get sued for infringement.

While this may not affect most hobbyist remixers, if you ever want to make a remix of yours a commercial success, you need to get the copyright holder's permission.

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