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MUL 1010 - Music Literature: Copyright

A guide for research in music literature


Here is some general information about copyright.  Note: Whether the work is under copyright or in the public domain, always cite your sources!  Want to ask for permission to use a work you find on the Internet? Always ask: "Do you hold the copyright for this work?" 


General Copyright Overview:  See U. S. Copyright Office for more information

  • The current copyright term in the United States 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.(But if you are a creator, registering your work with the Copyright Office will give you the right to sue)
  • 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.


  •  Audio recordings have two copyrights: one for the recording itself and one for the music that is recorded. So the music could be out of copyright while the recording is still under copyright. 

Educational Use

  • As a student creating a project for a class,  you can share music as part of an online class experience if the material is password-protected and made available only to others in your course. 
  • Whenever possible, link to the music

More about music and copyright can be found at the Music Librarians Association FAQ 

This information is not meant to offer legal advice

Copyright cleared!

The library licenses databases so you'll have access to music resources - and then there are sites that provide open access to clips, etc.  Example: 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe. "Up Above My Head". TV Gospel Time - Early 1960's.

"Critical Commons is a public media archive and fair use advocacy network that supports the transformative reuse of media in scholarly and creative contexts. Critical Commons is also part of the technical and conceptual architecture of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture and the electronic authoring/publishing platform Scalar."

Copyright-Free Music Sites

Copyright: Sampling, Artificial Intelligence

Copyright TidBits

Small, John. (1985, September).   J. C. Bach goes to law.  The Musical Times, 126(1711), 526-529. 

“John Christian Bach, born 250 years ago this month, is best known as one of the leading composers of his day. But he has another claim to fame ...: he brought the first legal action for breach of musical copyright… "