Hi all

Im wondering if there is copyright on sounds coming from different machines. This could be sounds like the buzz coming from a certain Philips shaver, the tapping on an mac keyboard, the flip of a switch in a BMW. The list goes on:) Am I allowed to record these sort of signature sounds (which has been designed in some way), and resell them? Also am I allowed to call them by their name in the tracklist?

Thanks alot Best wishes


5 Answers 5


As far as I understand it the copyright applies more or less only for electronically, and preferably (but not exclusively) musical, designed sound. Like the ringtones from polyphonic/PCM-cellphones to name one thing. When it comes to Zippo's, Cadillac doors, Harley-motors, the buttons on a Nintendo NES, et cetera, it is, still as far as I know, like taking a photograph or filming. You don't need an permission from Mercedes to use their cars in movies. :-)

They might however get well pissed if the name shows in unfavorable scenes. Shouldn't be a problem with sound though.

You rarely see brand-names when buying sound effects, but frankly I think it's more because they don't wanna tip off competitors! When it comes to vehicles, I think pretty much all my bought sound effects are named by brand and model, and actually in many cases even year of make or revision. In my Steinberg Nuendo Sound-collection every single sound is named by exactly where it came from :-)

  • Interestingly, Harley has actually protected the sound of their motor - at least, from other bike manufacturers from copying it. Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:00
  • Yup, heard that too. I have a lingering memory of companies like Zippo doing that to their lighters and Volvo to their doors as well? Makes me wonder if there might perhaps be a difference between industrial replication and artistic ditto? Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:31
  • I've talked to an American professional sound designer with years of experience, as well as combed through the net after answers, and what I got was pretty much what I already knew: Noone has, as far as we know, ever gotten in trouble over these kind of effects. The IP of Harley-roars, Zippo-lighters, and such, are merely meant to keep other brands from replicating their goods. Not much more. Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 1:15

You won't be infringing copyright, because names and titles can't be copyrighted, but you could face legal action over trademark infringement.

The exception is when a brand name or trademark is so entrenched and widespread that it becomes a generic term, hoover being the most familiar example.

If you want to stay on safe ground, then you're better off avoiding brand names when giving your recordings titles, I'd have thought.

  • Thanks alot. Yes I have thought about this being the way to go too. Hopefully its not illegal to just sell the sound with a general name on the file. Thanks again. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 17:26

Maybe check sounddogs etc and see if they have? If so then yes is likely answer, but an IP lawyer would be the only real way to know for sure...


with sound, the copyright is on the recording, and so if it's a device making a sound and you record it, i don't think there's a copyright issue, unless the device is playing a pre-recorded (or otherwise predefined) sound.

  • Thanks georgi. The sound is all mechanical, or at least its making the sound because of nuts n bolts and switches moving. Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 9:36
  • anyone copyright that, there will be a revolt..
    – georgi
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 10:01
  • Harley Davidson tried to turn the noise of their bike engines into a sound trademark, but gave up after six years in court. Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 11:37

I agree with georgi.m. As far as sound goes, I believe that once you record it it's yours. Otherwise you'd already have lawsuits all over the place. Unless it's an iconic sound (maybe like a mac computer booting up), or melody. Then you may have problems, or if you use someone else's recording of the same sound (to a percentage degree) like Geori.m mentioned. VERY interesting questions though....

  • Actually, we can use copywritten sounds like Mac tones or iPhone beeps etc - but the very strict caveat (one which is a big legal issue if overlooked) is that these sounds can only be used within the exact context and for the exact device they came from (such as using the iPhone tones for a text message sequence which is featured obviously as being iPhones). That's the only case we can do this though, hence why I've actually done sound workups on devices like this but they go into my non-sellable private stash. That also helps protect the liability. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 22:06

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