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Boatwright Memorial Library

Copyright and Fair Use: Music

Music Copyright Cases

The Music Copyright Infringement website, from Columbia Law School and the Gould School of Law at USC, offers information about music copyright infringement cases from the mid-19th centur‚Äčy forward.

Still Have Questions?

The Music Library Association has a great FAQ page that addresses copyright questions involving audio and video recordings, music scores, arrangements, sampling, course reserves, and more.

You can also email Linda Fairtile, the Head of Parsons Music Library, with your music copyright questions.

Song Lyrics

Quoting somebody else's song lyrics in your writing can be problematic, especially if your purpose is not scholarship or criticism (and even there, permission is often needed).  This blog post, written by an author who is an attorney, offers a clear presentation of the issues, as well as suggestions -- but not actual legal advice! -- for how to seek permission to quote song lyrics.


Audio Recordings

Audio recordings have two copyrights that need to be considered: one for the recording itself and one for the music that is recorded.  But while a symphony composed in 1910 is no longer protected by copyright, a recording of it made in 2010 still is.  In fact, almost every audio recording made in the United States is currently protected by copyrightFor most of the 20th century, recordings were protected only by state and local laws. In 1976 the federal government assigned a life-plus-70-years copyright term to all audio recordings made after February 15, 1972.  For recordings published before 1972, the CLASSICS Act of 2017 established a formula for determining they year that they enter the public domain:

  • published before 1923 -- enter the public domain 98 years after publication
  • published 1923-1946 -- enter the public domain 100 years after publication
  • published 1947–1956 -- enter the public domain 110 years after publication

Like other copyrighted materials, audio recordings are subject to fair use and/or educational exemptions under certain circumstances.  For guidance in these areas, click the fair use button at the top of this page or contact Linda Fairtile at Parsons Music Library.

If you want to avoid having to figure out copyright all together, there are many websites that offer music with Creative Commons licenses, some of which give you the legal right to use it in videos and other projects.  Here are a few of them:


Head, Parsons Music Library

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Linda Fairtile
Parsons Music Library
Modlin Center for the Arts
University of Richmond, VA 23173
804 287-6849
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.