Step 5. Acquire Media

The Right to Copy

Before we talk about where to get media from, it’s imperative to understand what media we can and can’t use in a book trailer.

Copyright is, quite literally, the right (or lack thereof) to copy someone else’s work. Copyright laws exist to give the original creator of a piece of work the right to benefit (profit) from that original work within a period of time stipulated by copyright laws. Laws vary from country to country, but in most countries the concept is straightforward: as the creator of an original piece of work, you own the right to control who may or may not copy your work for a certain number of years. At the time of this book’s writing, Canadian law granted copyright to a creator’s works from the creation of the work through to 50 years after his/her lifetime. These laws vary significantly from country to country and have changed substantially over time.

Copyright applies to electronic media just as much as it applies to physical media. Almost everything you find on the Internet – pictures, video clips, writing and audio – is governed by some sort of copyright law. You can find a lot of media on the Internet at no cost to you, and you can even download it to you computer at no cost, but that does not mean that you can use it for free.

Copying and using a piece of work have complex legal interpretations that may not be immediately obvious. For instance: Wolfgang Mozart’s music is no longer covered by copyright law, but a specific performance (say, the New York Philharmonic’s excellent performance of Mozart’s Final Symphonies) is protected by copyright law. It would be entirely legal for you to record your own performance of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, but using the New York Philharmonic’s recording without their permission is unlawful.

The safest way to navigate the complex legal waters of copyright is to assume that everything you find on the Internet is covered by copyright law and cannot be used without its owner’s permission, until you learn otherwise.

“Use Me, Baby …”

Some creators of media want their work to be used by others and will make their work available – sometimes for free, and sometimes for a price. The most common conditions you’ll see are:

  • Public Domain. As the name suggests, a work in the public domain is owned by the public. Be careful, though, to note that a specific interpretation of that work may be covered under copyright laws. As was stated earlier, Mozart’s music is now in the public domain, but a specific recorded performance of Mozart’s work may be protected by copyright law.
  • Creative Commons. This is a form of free licensing that is intended to give members of the public certain rights to protected works for free. Creative Commons will be covered in detail in a later section. It’s important to note here that in some cases, the owner of the work retains certain rights. This is very different from public domain.
  • Licensed Use. Unless a work is in the public domain, there will be some sort of license governing the use, distribution, sale and attribution of that work. A license is simply a contract between the owner of the work and the licensee of the work. It may or may not require compensation to the licensor. As is the case with any legal document, licenses need to be carefully read and understood to ensure that the intended use of the work will comply with the terms and conditions of the license.

As was the case with copyright law, contract law can vary significantly from country to country. When in doubt, seek local expertise that specializes in intellectual property law.

Videos are removed from YouTube daily for copyright infringement, especially for using music without consent. Using music without permission can also result in Recording Industry Association of America legal action.

The best solution is to get permission. I have images I shot in Costa Rica on my website about growing coffee. I had a European author email me for permission to use one of my images. I not only granted permission, but also sent him the high-quality original. All I asked in return was printed credit for the photo use, listing my website. My experience is that this is not unusual. Just ask. Offer to credit them in the end of the video. That costs you nothing, and maybe they will plug your video on their website.

Some creators of media want their work to be used and put it on the web for free, but define how and who may use it. Creative Commons is a popular license for photographers and musicians to use to define who and how you may use their free works. We will go into detail on Creative Commons in a few pages.

While free is nice, I tend to look for low-cost alternatives such as a royalty-free stock photography agency. An example is Royalty free does not mean it is free; it means you do not pay a royalty for each use. There are many sites out there where you can purchase images, music, sounds and video for low cost. Their terms and conditions are well documented and usually easy to understand. You can always ask them a question if in doubt. Search their site for images before joining. Find a site with the types of subjects you want, then purchase credits. Buying a block of credits, then multiple images is usually cheaper than buying images one at a time. You can also purchase quality levels of an image (low to very high resolution.) If your book trailer is going to be full 1080p HD, then 1920×1080 or larger is the resolution you need. The better the quality, the more you will pay.

Another approach is to look at services such as that offer access to artists for a low cost. In FiveRR, a basic “gig” is $5 US. There are hundreds of voice-over people who will record a small script for $5. There are many types of media available such as graphics, animation, music, audio and more.

Be careful on the web. If an image has a watermark behind it, that is not a free image. Someone just downloaded it and placed it in a library. Having your trailer pulled from YouTube for copyright violation is not fun. It can also be a pain in the pocket.


As you acquire media (images, music…), keep a copy of the receipt or other permission so that if you are challenged later, you have your documented permission to use them. As an example, if a friend gives me an image to use, I make the request in an email outlining what I am going to do with it and then print their reply with their permission.

If you are looking for free media, it is important to understand the license attached to it. Free doesn’t mean you can do just anything. The most common license that is quoted is the Creative Commons license.

The ultimate goal of most book trailers is to be hosted on YouTube. YouTube has an excellent page on understanding copyright as it pertains to YouTube videos.