What Content Can Be Used In A Demo?

Hey, there!

Copyrights are sacrosanct to me. The theft of intellectual property has become the norm with people who download movies, music and software without paying for them.

But your commercial demo (or any other demo, for that matter) doesn’t fall under that category.

In fact, you get special treatment.

A question that’s often asked when producing a client’s demo is about the material I pick. It’s always slightly adjusted material from television and radio commercials. And every so often, a client will be concerned that the material is copyrighted, and therefore, is a crime to use in a demo.

(Where was that line of thinking when I was fighting against Napster, eDonkey and Kazaa back in the day??)

Yes, the material is copyrighted.

No, it’s not a crime to use it in a demo.

The copyright laws of the US (and most other countries that are a party to the Berne Convention) protect anything created from the moment it’s affixed to a medium: written down, voiced, filmed, recorded.

[tweet_box]It is not a crime to use copyrighted material, in which you appear or are heard, in your demos.[/tweet_box]

But also built into the section of the US Code that lays out the copyright protections is a concept called “fair use.”

Fair use dictates that as long as you’re not replacing the sale of something, using the entire length of something, adding to the public discourse and not competing in the same marketplace, you are free to use anything you like, and specifically, to demonstrate your abilities via…a demo.

And why wouldn’t you want to show your potential clients exactly how you’d sound voicing the most professional, highly evolved material used in advertising? Can you imagine what our demos would sound like with products like Acme, Inc, Widgets International and YourNameGoesHere Laundry detergent?

Rest assured that when I pick copy for you to perform for your demo, that copy will be designed to show exactly what you can do with the most famous brands in the world – so that someday, you actually will. And the use of that copy is protected speech, designed not to compete with those products and services, but rather to show the world your mad skillz.

Hope this helps.



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  1. Does “Fair Use” extend to audiobook demo’s where you might use 3-5 minutes of a book? Would it make sense to seek clearance from the author in advance?

    1. Absolutely. And you don’t need clearance from anyone – remember, the author may not be the rights holder (that may be any number of parties, most often the publisher).

      Note that the first few minutes at the very beginning of the book is what most big name publishers use for their sample. Not because it’s easier, but because of the way books are written: that first few minutes has to suck you in as a reader – and that’s why they use it to suck in listeners.