How to Legally Use Album Art

By Kurt Schanaman
Copyrighted album art may be used with permission from the copyright holder.
Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Album art is legally protected under copyright laws of the country in which the business who registered it does business. When you desire to use copies of album art in any way, whether for profit or non-profit, permission. Without securing written permission, you could open yourself up to a lawsuit.

Search the album cover for copyright information pertaining to the album art. This information is generally located on the back of the album, or inside a CD insert that can be removed and opened. Though phone numbers aren't normally present, mailing addresses are sometimes provided. If neither are available, write down the name of the business that holds the copyright. This is the full name following the copyright symbol on the album cover or jacket.

Search the Internet for information about the copyright holder's business. If a phone number is provided on any website listed for the business, write it down along with the current mailing address.

Contact the copyright office if no Web information can be found about the copyright holder, and request the business contact information from the copyright office. For the U.S. Copyright office, load the main webpage and then click the "Search Records" button at the far right navigation bar. Select "Search the Catalog" under "Online Records" on the resulting page. Enter the copyright holder's name in the search box then click the "Begin Search." Write down all contact information provided by the copyright catalog.

Place a phone call to the company holding the copyright of the image you desire to use, and ask for specific details in how that company desires requests to be made. If you are directed to send a typewritten request, write down a list of all information you are told that the company needs.

Type out a formal permission request that will be sent to the copyright holder. In the letter, detail whether you will be charging a fee for the product on which you will be using the album cover art, or whether you will be receiving no monetary income through the use of the album art. If income will be made from your use of the album art, state the set price you will desire to charge for the product. This information will be necessary for the copyright holder to form an agreement on how much of a royalty payment you will have to make to the copyright holder for the commercial use. If no income will be made, the copyright holder may work with you to draft an agreement dictating what the terms of use must be for your continued use of the art.

Sign and date all correspondence sent to the copyright holder, and mail. Before signing any proposed contract by the copyright holder, consider allowing a copyright attorney review the agreement so that any items that are difficult for you to understand are made understood. If you are then willing and able to agree to the terms the copyright holder desires, you may sign and date the agreement before a notary public in your area as a witness. A local notary public can be located through the yellow pages of your local telephone book.

Abide by all of the terms in the agreement made between you and the copyright holder. Negative legal consequences can be incurred against you should you willingly violate any portion of the agreement.

About the Author

Kurt Schanaman has had several editorials printed by the Star-Herald Newspaper publication in Western Nebraska. He attended Western Nebraska Community College.