Step One: Contact the copyright owner
This is typically easier if the copyright owner is less well known. For example, a small, independent musician will be easier to contact than an internationally renowned recording artist, and is more likely to let you use their work for free, or for a small fee.
Explain to them what you would like to use their work for, and how the resulting film will be used (e.g. will it only be screened in the classroom, or will be it submitted for a film festival?)
Step Two: Ask the copyright owner to sign a release form
Typically you will need written documentation to show you have permission to use copyrighted material. This is so you have a record of the owner having given you permission in case there is a later dispute. Check with your instructor if they have formal documentation they would like to use. If not, there are many free resources on the internet you can adapt to your own purposes:
Step Three: Store the release forms
Release forms are legal documents, so you need to make sure you store them securely. If you use paper forms, scan them to store digitally, and be sure to make back up copies. You will also need to send copies to the copyright owner for their records. Your instructor may request to have copies of the forms submitted as part of your assessment.
This depends on how your film is going to be used. Having cited a work properly in your project means you have acknowledged the author’s contribution and therefore are not committing plagiarism.
However, citing a source does not protect you against claims of copyright infringement for a creative work. In general, if your film is going to be screened outside the classroom (for example, it is posted to YouTube, or screened at a film festival), you will still need permission to use a copyrighted work in the form of reproduction, distribution, and public display, Otherwise, you are infringing the copyright.
There are many alternatives to using costly copyrighted work in student films:
One: Use material in the public domain
Public Domain refers to content that can be used for free by anyone for any purpose and is neither owned nor controlled by any one. Content usually receive this status when their copyright expires or if the creator chooses to give it that status. Do remember that even if something is in the Public Domain in one country, it may not be in the Public Domain in ALL countries. Tools such as Appropedia and archive.org can help you find content in the Public Domain.
Two: Use material licensed under a Creative Commons license
Creative Commons licenses are a way for creators to make their work available to others for free, without having to seek permission.
For this type of content you need to check the license: even though you don't need to pay or seek permission, most creators will ask that you acknowledge them in some way (for example, in your credits). As a courtesy you can also contact the creator to tell them you have used their work - they will likely be very happy!
Three: Make your own!
Get creative and explore different ways of producing content for your film. Smartphone apps make creating content simple and fun. Try some of these apps to produce original content for your film: