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Underwater Festival Blog

Copyright Issues

It was great to be invited to be a video judge at this years Underwater Festival, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing the films that had been entered, and they did not disappoint, there were some absolutely great films. Sadly as we made our way through the films, we noticed that the soundtracks to some of the films did not appear to be cut to royalty free music. Subsequently we had to disqualify a lot of the films, some of which would have, without a doubt, gone on to win in their categories.
I thought I would write this post to give the videographers an insight to how I judge these films, and more importantly I would like to touch on the issue of copyright music and it’s use in todays media and what to do to avoid it.
I will start with how I judged the videos. A underwater film is made up of many elements, none of these elements are more or less important than the other. If as a filmmaker you manage to get them all on a high level then you produce magic. I use a point system, out of 5 for each section then tally up at the end.
  • Story
  • Composition
  • Edit & Cuts
  • Colour  / Correction
  • Sound levels
  • Sound Quality
  • Pace
  • Focus
  • Exposure 
  • Range of Shots


There is an old saying in film production “you never notice great sound” unfortunately, (and I know this because when I started to make films it was what I ignored) it is the most over looked element of film making, you find yourself so focused on the story and shots, the sound, a lot of the time becomes an after thought.
When you finally get to the point where you want to add sound, grabbing a favourtie track from itunes feels like an easy choice. I would be lying if I said that I have never done it...I have, countless times, a great song that fits with your footage makes for a fantastic film. Sadly this is illegal, here are a few facts about copyright and how you can make your sure your videos stand a good chance of being considered in future video competitions.
  • I brought the song so I can use it can’t I? This is not true, although you own a digital copy of the music you really are breaking copyright law if you modify that song in any way i.e adding video to it and publishing it online anywhere.
  • Classical Music is okay to use because it is copyright free! This also is not true, if the composer has been dead for 50 years it is true that the music becomes public domain, but it is quite likely that the source for that music was recored by another artist and they hold the copyright to their arrangement of that music. In short if you wanted to record your own version of an old piece of music and add it to your film you could. If you take a recording that somebody else has made of that music you need there permission.
  • Youtube / vimeo hold a license deal with the artist so I can use that music! This is true if all your video is going to do is appear as an none commercial film and only be hosted on the respective site. Unfortunately the Underwater Festival (and most other underwater photo competitions) are commercial entities, there is money and prizes involved, and if your film wins it will be used to promote that business. This breaks the copyright law of the license. Also the moment you are asked to send that film in on a USB key, that counts as transferal and again breaks the copyright license.
  • Where can I get music for my project? You can try to email the person / company that hold the rights to the music and ask for permission, clearly explain what your project is and how it will be displayed. It’s really up to the owner on what they decide, I  have had cases where they just want credit on the film, sometimes a small fee is asked for, and sometimes the answer is no! You can only try.
  • Where can I get music for my project? Do you know anybody that plays music or plays in a band, maybe they will be happy to let you use a track in return for a credit on the film.
  • Where can I get music for my project? If you own a Mac you can make your own music in Garage Band that comes as bundled software and there are a plethora of free / cheap music creation programs for the PC. Give them a go it is easier than you think.
  • Where can I get music for my project? Type in Royalty Free Music into google and you will get thousands of sites offering music. This will range from the not so great to fantastic! Some of it will be free to down load and some there will be a price, but usually never more than a couple of dollars.
  • Where can I get music for my project? Email me! I have hundreds for tracks that are royalty free, that I have used in my films and I am happy to let you use any of them, as long as the composer is given a credit on the film
    For next years Festival I will upload a selction of music to the Festival website that you guys can download and use.


I would like to congratulate all the winners of this years Underwater festival the video section continues to grow and there are some real talents emerging.
Lastly I would like to give my condolences to all the fine videographers who, unfortunately  had there films disqualified in this years competition. Believe me when I say it was heartbreaking to have to take the films out, but I am sure you can all understand the need for the competition to remain legal and above all fair.
If you would like to discuss any of the points above of have any other questions on video competition please get in touch
Fins Up
Kieren Curry



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