I answered a question in the users area, and thought it might help someone in the public area:
I'm not an expert on international copyright law, but here is a couple of basics for U.S. law.
The copyright of music is valid for the life of the artist + 50 years. So any music by a composer who has been dead for over 50 years is public domain, anyone can use it any way they want, and it's only courtesy or respect to mention who wrote the original music. You don’t have to give credit to anyone if you don’t want to. But, of course, you can never take credit of a public work for yourself either (public domain means it belongs to ALL of us)!
“Does that mean that in just 15 years I can use Jimi Hendrix music in my commercials and on my CD's without getting permission?”…
No. In some cases he recorded his
version of songs by other blues artist's (from which he obtained permission), otherwise you still have to wait for the rest of the band to die (co-authors), then just wait only 50 more tiny years after that, then the music is completely ours.
However, the "recorded" music (on audio, video, paper, etc.) has a copyright too. Although Bach's Chaconne is public domain, Segovia's transcription of it is copyrighted by Segovia, and any recorded performance is copyrighted by the individuals or symphonys which performed it. So although many of the underlying compositions here may be "free" to use, the transcriptions are technically not.
“How do I copyright my
All copyrights are automatically created. By automatic I mean that if you create a song, or if you alter a composition that is public domain, you have automatically created a copyright on that song or alteration. If you want to legally enforce
your new song or transcription, you can record it and register the recording with the Library of Congress, but the actual copyright was generated spontaneously, during the moment of creation, because you say so… It’s just that simple!
So, as far as this site, all of the older pieces are public, but get permission if you want to use the .pdf files on your site because the transcriptions are copyright of their creators. Also there are many other items submitted by members (audio, video, digital photos, midi, ect.), so if your intentions go beyond personal education use, be sure to ask the copyright holder, and NEVER submit sheet music you buy from the store, because the printing is copyright of the publishing company, even if the music is not.
I personally recommend downloading a music notation program (there are many) and notating or transcribing every public domain piece you study, and alter it (with accents, dynamics, expressions, performance aides) to your own personal style. Then you'll hold the copyrights to the transcriptions and prints. The notation program can then create audio files from the music you've notated, and tablature transcriptions from the sheet music (more copyrights you'll hold). Congratulations, you’re now a music publisher! I swear it's that
I hope this little bit of info helps. Oh, and here…
- U.S. Copyright office (with info on international law)
- Library Of Congress (The largest library in the world)
The Copyright Office is actually part of the Library Of Congress, and will send you the ENTIRE volume of copyright statutes for FREE upon request (in the USA). Now go feed your head, and write music... I did!