DON’T Use That Song in Your Commercial


I was recently asked for a favor: to provide a short voice-over for a video intended for presentation at an upcoming trade show, in exchange for dinner and wine for four at a swanky restaurant, worth around $200-250. We live in a small town and the business owner was under a time crunch, so I drove to his office to have a look at his project.

A few minutes later I walked out, having declined the job

The script they wanted me to read was (with the exception of one word substituted for “farmer”) a word-for-word ripoff of Paul Harvey’s famous “So God Made a Farmer” speech to the FFA, which reached a wider audience a few years ago as a Chrysler commercial for the Super Bowl.

Of course, it was a great piece of copy. Paul Harvey was a master of wordcraft.

But it wasn’t theirs to use.

I asked the individuals if they’d obtained permission to use the copyrighted script. Obviously, they hadn’t. A short while later I received a text saying they were scrapping the project.  But they’d already used the same script at least twice before, for different corporate video presentations. The regional media and marketing company that produced the video should have known better, but evidently didn’t know – or didn’t care enough to give it a second thought.

To put it plainly, using someone else’s copyrighted material in your advertising is illegal and unethical.

Whether it’s a photograph you’ve snagged off the internet to use on your website or a hit song you’d like to use in a radio or television commercial, if it’s copyrighted intellectual property, you can’t use it legally without going through proper channels to license it for this purpose — a cost-prohibitive situation for all but the very deep-pocketed national advertisers.

A number of radio companies have been sued in recent weeks for unauthorized use of celebrity photos on their websites. In this week’s Small Market Radio Newsletter, publisher Jay Mitchell wrote the following warning to broadcasters:

How Not to Get Sued
If you’ve been keeping up, you know that no one is immune from potentially-crippling legal action from photographers and image agencies targeting websites of deep-pocketed (or so they think) broadcasting companies.

News flash: It’s not just the big groups that are in danger.

While none of our radio web clients have been snagged—we monitor things like that, and as a result, they’re extremely careful—a small business client did get slammed by Getty Images for a picture that was used “FPO” (for position only) during the development phase and left up by mistake when the site went live. (That dumb mistake cost us $500, but it could have been much more.)

The thing is, you can still access pretty much every image you want or need—you just have to know where they come from, and what the usage rights are.

We all use Google to find appropriate images to illustrate our web pages, stories, and promotions. When we do, we usually enter the keywords into the search field, then click on “Images.” There’s one extra step you can take to avoid trouble. After you’ve performed your search, filter the results this way:
1. Click on “Search Tools.”
2. Click on “Usage Rights.”
3. Click on “Labeled for reuse.”
4. What now displays is probably safe to use—but you need to look more closely.

The usage rights of most, if not all, of the images you see are governed by the Creative Commons licensing system. Some images, noted by “CC0,” are in the public domain and completely free of all restrictions. Others are only for noncommercial use, others cannot be altered, and some can be used only with attribution.

To find out more, you have to view the image in context—on the web page from where it came. To do this, click on an image, then click on “Visit page.” Locate your image, then click on it to display the actual usage rights. The image on this page [there was a picture of cats -RS] was located just that way; its rights are listed as “CC0 Public Domain | Free for commercial use | No attribution required”

To play it even safer, go directly to websites that participate in the Creative Commons system—some of which are Flikr, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay and Vimeo. (For more information, visit

The image you want—as long as it’s licensed for commercial use—may require attribution. Play fair, give the photographer his or her due, and you’ll never have to worry about getting sued.

Longtime radio talent coach and advertising guru Dan O’Day has written extensively on the subject of using copyrighted music in your radio advertising. (His advice, in a word: Don’t. )  But it’s such a common and pervasive problem that years ago he wrote a book on the subject, intended primarily for radio station production departments, but useful for anyone involved in radio advertising.

Just as there are plenty of legal ways to obtain photographs and illustrations for your website or print pieces, so there are many sources for royalty-free music that can be used as theme music for your business. Most radio stations have in-house libraries of such music. Others subscribe to online royalty-free music services (as I do for my own business). If you really want to set yourself apart, consider partnering with a jingle production company — I can recommend several — that will create a piece of catchy music or a song that will be yours and yours alone, as for instance…

So, to avoid finding yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit (even if the possibility is remote, the penalty can be severe), avoid using copyrighted materials belonging to someone else in your advertising.



Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He became sales manager for the Pullman Radio Group in 1979 and served in that position until 2006. He continues to serve clients in the region as the stations’ senior account executive. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at and on his Viewbug gallery.
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