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Music Research Guide


Music Library Association - Copyright pages: An easy-to-use guide to copyright laws and Fair Use

Stanford University Libraries - Copyright and Fair Use pages: In-depth resource about copyright and Fair Use. Easy to use; contains examples of litigation.

BMI (Broadcast Music International): Broadcast licensing organization.

Music Plagiarism Project: This site from the George Washington University Jacob Burns Law Library provides documents (texts, scores, audio, and video files) associated with music copyright infringement cases in the U.S. from 1845 forward.

PD Info: Public Domain Music: Site explains how to identify music in the public domain and lists some public domain music, primarily songs.

US Copyright Office Home Page: Information about copyright, application forms, etc. for registering works, plus links to related sites.

Music Publishers' Association: Directory of music publishers, copyright resource center, links, and more.

Copyright Guidelines

Patrons are responsible for complying with copyright laws. The following are a few guidelines for legal copying of musical scores and recordings that are under copyright (these laws do not apply to material in the public domain, which may be reproduced freely). Everyone in the performing arts should be educated and concerned about the protection of intellectual property.

Photocopying of Copyrighted Music

During debate on the changes made to copyright law in 1976, various representatives of the publishing industry and music teacher associations met and agreed on minimum guidelines for educational fair use on copying of music. Copying beyond the amount stated in the guidelines listed below may be justified by fair use after careful analysis, but seeking permission is always preferable.


Guidelines for Educational Use of Copyrighted Music

Permissible Uses

  1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an imminent performance provided purchased replacement copies shall be substituted in due course.
  2. For academic purposes other than performance, single or multiple copies of excerpts of works may be made, provided that the excerpts do not comprise a part of the whole which would constitute a performable unit such as a section, movement, or aria, but in no case more than 10% of the whole work.
  3. Printed copies which have been purchased may be edited or simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted, any lyrics are not altered, and no lyrics are added.
  4. A single copy of recordings of performances by students may be made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by the educational institution or the individual teacher.
  5. A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc, or cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)


  1. Copying to create or replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations, or collective works.
  2. Copying of or from works intended to be consumable in the course of studio or of teaching such as workbooks, exercises, standardized tests and answer sheets, and like material.
  3. Copying for the purpose of performance, except as allowed above.
  4. Copying for the purpose of substituting for the purchase of music, except as allowed above.
  5. Copying without inclusion of the copyright notice which appears on the printed copy.


Fair Use as Set Forth in Case Law and the Statute

The doctrine of "fair use," embedded in Section 107 of the copyright law, addresses the needs of scholars and students by allowing use of copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright owner in certain limited circumstances. However, what constitutes fair use is expressed in the form of guidelines rather than explicit rules.  To determine fair use, one must consider all of the following four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the copied material will be for nonprofit, educational, or commercial use.  Personal, nonprofit, or educational usage tips the balance in favor of a finding of fair use.   Commercial usage weighs against a finding of fair use. Criticism, commentary, news reporting, and teaching (including multiple copies for one-time classroom use) are considered "core" fair uses, and thus weigh in favor of a finding of fair use. A work that parodies a copyrighted work is considered a "transformative" work and generally this type of use tips the balance in favor of a finding of fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, with special consideration given to the distinction between a creative work and an informational work.  For example, photocopies made of a newspaper or newsmagazine column are more likely to be considered a fair use than copies made of a musical score or a short story.   Imaginative and unpublished works are granted greater protection than factual and published works.
  3. The amount, substantiality, or portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. This factor requires consideration of the proportion of the larger work that is copied and used, and the significance of the copied portion.
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market of the copyrighted work.  For example, making 26 copies of worksheets from a math workbook instead of buying one for each student would probably have a negative effect on profits for the author of the workbook, and would not likely be considered fair use.  On the other hand, a use that is clearly a fair use under the above three factors may be found to be a fair use even if its use could have a somewhat negative effect on the market.  This factor is often granted great importance by the courts.

‚ÄčPlease visit the website of the General Counsel for more information, or ask the Music Librarian.

Copyright and Fair Use