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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Copyright Resources for Music

This guide will point you toward resources to help navigate the complex world of music copyright issues.


This guide, and the links it includes, are in no way meant to provide legal advice. Copyright laws are complicated and there is often no clear right or wrong. This guide is only meant to lead you toward resources that can help you make choices concerning copyright. If you need any additional help finding copyright resources, ask a reference librarian, but for actual legal advice, please ask a lawyer!

You can also consult with the University's Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson ( We also encourage you to check out her general Copyright Reference Guide linked below.

Some Copyright Ground Rules

General Concepts

  • A work created today is protected under copyright as soon as it’s created and is protected for the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 years.
  • If more than one person created a work, they might be joint owners of a work.
  • When copyright expires, the work becomes public domain.
  • Ideas can’t be copyrighted, only the tangible expression in a fixed medium of the idea can.
  • You may use any copyrighted material under the “fair use” doctrine, within fair use guidelines. (See "Fair Use")
  • If something looks copyrighted, assume it is.


  • With printed music and recorded music, there are seperate copyright issues concerning the work itself and the item (score, CD, digital file, etc.). The work itself is one thing and will have its own creator and dates and rights, while the item (score edition, CD, etc.) will also have rights associated with it. For example, a Mozart symphony may be in the public domain, but the score edition published last year is not.

Copyright Basics

If you want to read more about copyright or get a sense of what other guides and resources exist to help you make informed decisions about copyright, check out the guides and resources linked below.