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Copyright: Copyright of musical works

A useful source of information and advice on Copyright in HE

Copyright of Musical Works

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Basics of Music Copyright

How is music protected in copyright?

Each part of music is protected by copyright in different ways:


  "Musical Work" = the music itself


  "Written/Literary Work" = the lyrics


 "Printed Music" = Staff notation, neumatic notation, chord symbols, tablature, graphic scores, braille, and tonic sol-fa


 "Sound recordings" = a whole or partial recording of music (also includes other work such as dramatic works) which the work can be reproduced from. E.g. vinyl, tape recordings, and CD's


And for how long is it copyrighted?

Every new idea that is written down or documented/recorded in some way is automatically copyrighted, however it lasts for a limited time after the death of the creator.

Copyright for "Musical Works" usually lasts from 70 years of the death of the last known author. (For operas, specifically, copyrights lasts for 70 years from the death of either the librettist or the composer, whichever is longer-lived) 


If the author is unknown, then the copyright lasts for 70 years from when the music was first made public - e.g. performed.

For "Sound Recordings" the copyright is 50 years after the death of the longest-lived author, or 70 years from the date it was published or made public.


Important to note: 

It is important to check the licenses of material that you purchase from music purchasing websites (like iTunes) before reusing it as it may not be in the public domain or under a Creative Commons licence. Just because you have bought and own the copy of the work does not mean you are able to re-use it. 


Printed Music and Exceptions

In most cases, permission is always needed before using/reusing ANY piece of musical work. 

  • Printed music could be copyrighted via any or all of the ways that are listed on this page under 'Basics of Music Copyright'.
  • According to the information, libraries can provide a copy of only a part of a published piece of work, or all or some of an unpublished piece. This, however, is ONLY for PRIVATE STUDY or RESEARCH.
  • However, BCU does not currently have any licencing agreements that allow for the copying of musical works, except for very small extracts for education.
  • Exceptions for use of printed music include: 

Use for research or private study; caricature, comedy or pastiche; and illustration for instruction (meaning the use of small extracts as examples for teaching purposes).

This is all as long as the idea of "fair dealing" is followed - i.e. using a piece of the work rather than the entire work. 


(See the "Copyright of Written Works" tab on this guide for more information about "fair dealing") 


  • Caricature, Parody and Pastiche: 

This exception allows for some amount of work (to the extent that is "fair dealing") to be re-worked/built upon in these forms. Often this allows for a small part of the original, single piece of work to be adapted and used in another, new, single piece of work. 

The 'Copyright notice: Printed Music' PDF, contains some useful information (see the 'sources' box below for instructions of how to find it), but here is a summary of some key points below:

  • With printed music '...there may be a composer, lyricist, arranger and music publisher...' that hold copyright over a certain work. (If the work is commissioned, the creator usually has the copyright unless otherwise agreed)


  • Copyright in music protects from very similar infringements as the normal Copyright Act (CDPA 1988). However, it is important to note that copyright also covers protection from adapting the work, broadcasting it or making it available to access via the internet. 


  • Work can only be freely copied, adapted, performed etc. if the copyright on the work has expired.  


  • If a certain work is licenced under a licence which allows for some copying for specific purposes, it will be clearly stated with any copyright information on the work itself.


When seeking permission to use music, the MPA can help people to get in touch with the owners of music copyright - go to and search for their FAQ's and look for 'How can I use music published by a music publisher'

Arrangements and Performances

What if I want to perform a musical work?  

  1. A performance at the institution (BCU) by either a staff member or a student for an audience of staff, students, and others connected with the activities of the institution is not considered copyright infringement. (Note: this does not apply if parents are also in the audience because it is then classed as a "public performance") ‚Äč
  2. However, what you are performing still needs to be taken into account - for example, if you are performing a piece that you have arranged yourself, you still need to follow copyright guidelines and seek permission (if the work is still in copyright) in order to create your own arrangement in the first place.
  3. If you are going to perform in another venue, that venue should have a proper licence in order for them to be allowed to hold performances of live music without infringing copyright - most likely to be the PPL PRS TheMusicLicence.
  4. For information surrounding 'Grand Rights' go to the PRS for Music website - and search 'Theatre Royalties' (This is specific to the PRS license).

For useful definitions of the terms related with 'Grand Rights' search for 'PPL PRS grand rights' in your web browser and find the 'Theatres Music Licence' title on the PPL PRS website. Once on the site scroll down to the drop-down menus to find more information on grand rights.

If the work is under copyright, permission is needed from those who hold the copyright before you can make your own arrangement of the work.

There is a short notice at MPA Online about arranging music, where you can search 'musical arrangement'

This MPA 'advisory note' states that: 'The process for this is generally to ask for permission from the music publisher who owns/controls the work before the arrangement is made, although final permission may not be granted until the publisher has seen the new arrangement.' 

Library Supervisor

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Tom Rowley
Curzon Building,
4 Cardigan St,
B4 7BD

Sources and Useful links '28 The Musician and the Machine' - to find the page go to this link and search 'musician and the machine'

Intellectual Property Office 'Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988' - go to and search 'copyright acts and related laws' to find the file

Meletti, B. and Bonazzi, D. 'Using and Reusing' - to find the 'Using and Reusing' page go to this link and search 'using' 

MPA Online -

Both PRS for Music and PPL PRS are useful sources for music copyright - just search for them in your browser

For more information about musicians and copyright see - - and search for 'Creators Discuss' 

For the full information of printed music copyright see - - and search for 'copyright notice printed music' (There will be a useful PDF under 'Copyright notice: Printed Music')


All information and pages are licenced under the Open Government Licence -

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