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Music Copyright Resources

A guide for music students and faculty with questions about copyright.

Why Have Copyright?

Copyright serves two purposes:

1) to grant authors exclusive rights to protect their work for a period of time, and

2) to promote creativity, innovation, and learning.

It does this by giving creators exclusive rights to their work, during which they can make money off the work and present it as their own. Then, after a set period of time, copyright removes those exclusive rights, allowing everyone to use the work to create new works and learn from that work.

What is Copyright?

According to United States Code, copyright is “the right of authors to control the use of their work for a limited period of time” (Purdue University Copyright Office).

The exclusive rights which Congress grants under the copyright are:

  • To reproduce a work,
  • To prepare derivative works,
  • To sell, rent, lease, lend, or otherwise distribute the work,
  • To perform the work publicly,
  • To display the work publicly, and
  • To publicly perform a work on a sound recording via digital transmission

These exclusive rights are cumulative and may overlap. The U.S. copyright law is contained in the U.S. Code, Title 17. Section 106 lists the exclusive rights, while sections 107-122 cover limitations in the scope of copyright.

-From Music Library Association: Music Copyright for Librarians

What is Not Protected by Copyright?

Works which are not original, or which are not tangibly fixed, are not protected. The work need only display a modicum of originality, but original authorship must be present. An example of a work which is not protected due to lack of originality is the white pages of a phone book (see Feist v. Rural, 499 U.S. 340 (1991)). The law identifies several classes of material which are not subject to copyright protection:

  • Ideas
  • Procedures, processes, systems, and methods of operation,
  • Concepts and principles
  • Discoveries

-From Music Library Association: Music Copyright for Librarians

What is Protected by Copyright?

To qualify for copyright protection, a work must satisfy two requirements: it must be original, and it must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The law leaves the phrase ''original works or authorship" undefined, but does list eight tangible media of expression which are included (not a complete list):

  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings

-From Music Library Association: Music Copyright for Librarians