All About Copyrights

How Long Are Copyrights Valid? Frequently Asked Questions
Explanation of "Copyright" Explain POPed Music
What Does It Take to Get a Piece of Music in Print? How To Get Permission to Record?
Brochure on Copyright How Do I Submit a Manuscript for Publication?
Where Do I Find the Copyright Law? Links for further information
Disclaimer:  The information on this page is not to be construed as legal interpretation of law.  Use of information on this site to determine status of copyright is at the user's risk. We offer it for general understanding, and accept no liability for errors or misuse of the material.

Where Do I Find Information about the Copyright Law?

    A copy of the US copyright law is found in Title 17 of the United States Code and is administered by the US Copyright Office.

    You may also secure a copy of the copyright law at

    FAQ for Copyright information:

    A further act of Congress was signed into law in 1998,  extending protection of copyrights for an additional 20 years. "Terms for Copyright Protection", a U.S. Government publication, summarizes the current duration of copyright protection for published works or Terms of Public Domain as follows:

  Works created after 1/1/1978  -  life of the longest surviving author plus 70 years -  earliest possible public domain date is  --       1/1/2048

    Works published before 1/1/1978  -  95 years from the date copyright was secured - works registered in 1923 will enter the public domain in 1/1/2019.

    Works already in the public domain - copyright protection not restored and works remain in the public domain.  All works prior to 1923 are in public domain.

Prior to the 1998 term extension, protection for works registered before 1/1/1978 was 75 years; therefore, compositions registered in 1922 or earlier entered the public domain on 1/1/1998.  The1998 copyright extension did not restore copyright protection to songs already in the public domain.

What Does It Take to Get a Piece of Music in Print?

What does it take to put a piece of music permanently out of print?
  • Decreased sales
  • What can you do to assure quality music remains in print?
  • Refuse to make copies, Refuse to use illegally photocopied music, Report offenders

  • Explanation of Copyright.

    "Copyright" is a privilege of protection afforded to the artist who creates a product.  In the case of music, the original copyright owner is the one who composes the music, tune, text (if applicable) and harmonic structure, that is, the artistic concepts.   This "right to copy" is usually legally conveyed when a piece is assigned to a publisher, who then most often acts as the owner of the copyright.  Only the owner of a copyright has the authority or right to make copies or do anything that would change the selection.

    This protection of the copyright owner is to insure that his/her creative work and/or investment in the production of the work is secure.  Every illegal copy that is made penalizes the artist and copyright owner by withholding deserved income.  Making illegal copies is a Federal crime and conviction warrants fines and possible imprisonment.

    As a purchaser of the music, you have certain rights.  You purchase the paper, tape or CD on which the work is recorded.  You can fold, spindle, burn, give away, or otherwise do anything with that material you wish.  With the purchase, there are limited performance rights, meaning that you can perform the music for the group and locale for which it was purchased.  In cases of performance for profit and/or away from your "home base," you may be required to pay a royalty fee.

    As a purchaser of the music, you are not entitled to copy by print or electronic media, alter the melody, harmony, text, or otherwise alter or duplicate the selection.  You may interpret the music by changing its tempo, intensity, and timbre, but you may not make physical changes to the music score, including adding instruments or descants, without the written approval of the copyright owner.

    This complex legal question is also an ethical one.  The legal matters may be understood by securing a copy of a brochure that is a simple explanation of some of the more common questions concerning copyrights.  It also gives some information about recording performances and use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes.  Contact

    The Music Publishers' Association
    PMB 246
    New York, NY  10028
    Phone/fax:  212-327-4044
    On the ethical question, the artist is entitled to receive income from the sale of the product.  Pirating by making copies of existing music, or making arrangements or other alterations to the music and text, results in the loss of sales and theft of income to the publisher and the artist.

    The general answer to most copyright questions could be "Contact the publisher or copyright owner.  That information is found on all sheet music and recordings.   You may also contact ASCAP or BMI, two licensing agencies, for further information in finding the owner of the copyright.  You may also look up information on copyrights and public domain on the internet."

    Check the links above as well as these agencies:

    ASCAP's online database

       BMI's online database

       The Harry Fox Agency

       SESAC's online database

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    Most common questions are:

    "How can I find out whether a piece is copyrighted?"
        Answer:  Most printed music and recordings will show the copyright symbol, the copyright owner's name (usually the publisher), and the date of copyright.  In sheet music, it is usually on the bottom of the first page of the music.  See the above ASCAP and BMI sites.

    "How do I find contact information for a publisher?"
        The Music Publishers Association (MPA) maintains an up-to-date Directory of Music Publishers.  It is available upon request and can be accessed, searched and printed from the MPA website:

    "The music dealer says this is music is permanently out of print (POPed).  Can I make copies of it?"  --
        Answer:  No, not without permission of the copyright owner.   Contact the publisher (copyright owner) to secure permission to reprint.  There may be a fee charged.

    "I would like to expand this two-octave piece to three octaves." --
        Answer:  Contact the publisher (copyright owner).  They may have an arrangement already, and they will likely give you permission to make the expansion.  Likely they will ask for a copy that they will consider for publication.

    "I found this tune and want to make an arrangement.  What do I need to do about copyrights?"
        Answer:  Check with to assure the tune is in public domain, meaning it is not the copyright of someone else.  Public Domain means that the tune is not copyrighted or that the dates of protection have expired.  Often, folk tunes and hymns are copyrighted even though they are used indiscriminately by the public.
        The above URL will link you to other sites where you can expand your inquiry.   If you know the publisher of the piece, you may also contact the publisher for information about copyrights.
       You need to find the oldest possible version of the melody (best evidence)  and start with that. Using the tune of a piece that is already arranged can be very tricky since the arranger may have altered the original melody when composing his/her piece and may have a copyright on the arrangement.

    "How long is a piece under copyright?"

        Rather than copy the material here, we refer you to  "Terms of Copyright Protection"  at

    "When and how do I copyright one of my creations?"

        When you set the Art, Music, or writings to hard copy or electronic recording, it is copyrighted and you have the full protection of the law.  It is well to have documentation that this is your original work, with appropriate date and witness, and to keep copies in a safe place, in case of challenge in later years.
        If you wish to "register" your copyright, you may contact the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.   They will assist you in completing the necessary forms.

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    Explain POPed Music.

    POPed music is music that the publisher has determined should be put Permanently Out of Print.  This usually occurs because of low sales or low stock and it is deemed that sales would not warrant an additional printing.
    Because a selection is not available, if POPed or not, does not negate the right of copy (copyright).  The holder of the copyright still controls the printing and permission to reprint.  To reprint without permission is illegal. Period.

    What if I find a piece of music that is not available from the publisher or retail music distributors, or if this selection has been POPed, and I want to duplicate it or otherwise get copies?   Usually, the process is rather simple.

    As in all matters of copyright, the first step is to Contact the copyright holder, usually the publisher.  The name of the copyright holder is printed in the music, at the bottom of the first page of music.  Often they will have a file copy of the piece and will make reprints for a fee.  Reprint fees may be a minimal charge or they may price it at the current rate for new music.

    If you cannot obtain permission to copy, you will need to find someone who has the music or else find another selection that you can use.

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    How To Get Permission to Record?

    Contact the publishers who may license you directly or refer you to the Harry Fox Agency who many publishers use to license the recording of their works.

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    How Do I Submit a Manuscript for Publication?

    A list of publishers can be found at or   Most publishers include their guidelines on their website.  You may wish to contact the publishers before sending yours.

    Common steps are:

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    Disclaimer:  Disclaimer:  The information on this page is not to be construed as legal interpretation of law.  Use of information on this site to determine status of copyright is at the user's risk. We offer it for general understanding, and accept no liability for errors or misuse of the material.

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    Contact for information about this page.
    Revised: October 1, 2000.