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Copyright Information

Keep it legal.

You want your students to value music. When you observe the copyright law you show them the way. The future of music is in your hands. Here’s how to keep it legal…

What You Can Do:

  • You may make emergency photocopies to replace missing purchased copies for an imminent performance, provided you replace all copies with purchased music in due course.
  • You may edit or simplify music as long as the fundamental character of the work is not distorted. Note: You may not alter or add lyrics.
  • Teachers may make 1 copy per student of excerpts of musical works for academic purposes. Note: the excerpts may not be used for performance. The excerpt may not comprise more than 10% of the complete work or comprise a performable unit such as a movement or aria.
  • Teachers may make a single copy of a student performance to be used for evaluation or rehearsal purposes.
  • Teachers may make a single copy of a sound recording owned by the institution or teacher for creating aural exercises or examinations. Note: This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording, for which permission must be obtained from the record company.

What You Can’t Do:

  • Do not copy or download music to avoid purchase.
  • Do not keep photocopies in your library. Destroy any unauthorized photocopies immediately and replace them with legal editions.
  • Do not copy out-of-print works without permission of the publisher. Note: If it is vital you obtain music that is out-of-print, contact the publisher directly. They can confirm if the work is out of print and can sometimes arrange for you to obtain a legal copy. “Out-of-print” does not mean “out of copyright.”
  • Do not make arrangements of works (other than to edit or simplify) without permission of the copyright owner.
  • Do not copy music for use in performance unless you replace it with a legal edition in due course.
  • Do not copy without including the copyright notice that appears on the printed copy.
  • Do not copy to create anthologies or compilations.
  • Do not reproduce material designed to be consumable, such as workbooks, standardized tests and answer sheets.
  • Not knowing the copyright owner is no excuse for not following copyright law. Resources are readily available to help you find the owner.

Getting Permission:

The Music Publisher’s Association of the United States helps you find publisher information on their website so you can obtain permission from copyright owners.

  • If you have a copy of the music, look for the copyright holder or publisher’s name, and use the “Copyright Search” link on to access the Music Publisher Directory and index of Publishers’ Imprints to find the publisher’s contact information.
  • If you do not know or can’t locate the publisher of the music, research further by accessing the three U.S. performing rights organization websites (note that each organization has different repertoire, so you may need to search all three). Links to each are provided on in the “Copyright Search” section.
  • – ACE is the searchable database of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers which can be searched by song or composer name.
  • – Search by song or composer name to access publisher information on songs licensed by BMI.
  • – Access the “repertory” link to search titles represented by SESAC.
  • How to secure permission to make sound recordings? If you want to copy and distribute recordings of compositions which you did not write and are not in the public domain go to the Harry Fox Agency web site,, to obtain a “mechanical” (recording) license. Use the Songfile search and the License Music link to obtain mechanical and other rights information.
  • Permission forms are available on many publishers’ websites or use the forms provided at
  • How do I know if a work is still protected by copyright, or if is in the public domain?
  • Know the law: Works first published in the U.S. with a copyright date of 1922 or earlier are in the public domain in U.S. Works created after January 1, 1978 will be protected for the life of the composer (author) plus 70 years. Copyrights secured on or after January 1, 1923 and in effect on that date, usually will continue for 95 years from the date copyright was originally secured. Please note that the copyright laws of other countries are different, so that works protected in the U.S. may not be protected in other countries and vice versa.

Still not sure? Try the Library of Congress. Visit to search for copyrighted works.

More Info
This page gives permission to reproduce and has some good FAQ’s.
Links and articles for copyright, public domain, rights and wrongs, recording and selling student performances, lyrics, licensing and more.
Has a document library on a number of copyright issues, forms for obtaining permission to arrange music, copy out-of print music or to report a copyright violation, also a link to “A Guide to Copyright for Music Librarians” that includes guidelines for use of computer software, off-air recording for educational purposes and video use.
For churches and church musicians.

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