The world of copyright law is sometimes confusing, especially in regards to music. Music compositions are arrangements are known as intellectual property, which means it’s protected even if an official copyright is never registered in the United States. The holder of the copyright has the option of transferring the piece of another owner, but the original copyright still remains. Essentially this means that no one has the right to reproduce the music or lyrics without the written consent of the copyright owner. Others also cannot perform the music in a public setting or reproduce the lyrics of the music. The music itself cannot be played in public or rearranged by someone unless they have the consent of the copyright holder. Anyone who does these things without the consent of the copyright holder is subject to legal ramifications. The main exception to the rule is in the case of public domain music or music that falls within the public domain. The copyright on the music only holds for a specific period of time and if the copyright holder fails to renew their copyright, the music becomes part of the public domain. This also holds true when the owner of the copyright passes away and their family fails to renew the copyright. Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells are examples of public domain music.

Resources on the copyright laws of music include:

Songs that fall within the public domain are no longer subject to the same rules regarding copyright laws. This explains the many variations on Jingle Bells and other Christmas related songs. Anyone has the option of rearranging those songs and changing them in any way, as well as performing them in a public setting. Even if someone changes the song to include denture cream, they can’t be subjected to a denture cream lawsuit. Music is protected under Title 17 in the United States Code relating to copyright laws. The Title states that music is under protection for 70 years after the author dies if the song was created after 1978. For music created before then, the copyright holds for 95 years. Any work that was copyrighted prior to 1923 is part of the public domain. This means that the public domain for music is set right now and won’t change again until at least 2019. Music educators have other options when it comes to copyright protected music. If they were forced to only perform music in the public domain, things would become boring. Instead they have the option of using sheet music from a licensed source. Sheet music is part of the copyright law because the holder of the copyright permits the printing of the sheet music, knowing that it’s performed by others. Sheet music includes popular topics and songs from famous artists. The educator can use that music in a public setting without fearing legal repercussions, including those denture cream lawyers from the previous example. Sheet music also applies in situations of school plays and musicals. It allows educators the chance to perform music without worrying about copyright laws.

Published November 17, 2011 by