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Understanding music copyright and what it means for you is important. A common pitfall is to assume that all academic use of materials falls under Fair Use or education exemptions. It's important to understand that this is not always the case. Learn more

General Guidelines

General Copyright Overview

  • The current copyright term is the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.
  • When copyright expires, the work becomes public domain. The public domain refers to works that are no longer protected by copyright materials.
  • Copyright exists as soon as an item is created, it no longer needs to be registered.
  • Ideas can’t be copyrighted, only the tangible expression in a fixed medium of the idea can.
  • Always assume copyright exists.
  • Copyrighted materials can be used in certain circumstances under the Fair Use Doctrine.
  • Creators can allow their work to be reproduced, remixed, and used without permission by applying Creative Common licenses to them.
  • The copyright owner has the exclusive rights to reproduce the copyrighted work in any form.


  • The work has a separate copyright from the item (score, CD, etc.). So a symphony could be in the public domain, but if a new edition of the score was published last year, it will have its own copyright
  • Most performances of copyrighted works require a license with the exception of "face-to-face" teaching
  • Where a copy is allowed under fair use, you can make one copy of sheet music per student. When copying under the fair use exemption, the copier should be sure the copyright notice always appears on the copies. Additionally, be sure the copy is attributed to the author.