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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

Music Research Guide

About Copyright

General Copyright 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 the "Fair Use" section of the Copyright research guide)


Music copyright:

There are seperate copyright issues concerning the musical composition itself and a recorded or printed item (score, CD, digital file, etc.) produced from the work. The composition is considered to have its own creator, dates, and rights, while the produced item (score edition, CD, etc.) will have specific rights associated with it. For example, a Mozart symphony may be in the public domain, but the score edition published last year or a particular recorded performance is not.

Find Music Copyright Information

Often a copyright notice will be located either on a recording or on the sheet music for a composition.

Some sites for searching for copyright information for particular song titles, writers, or publishers: 

Copyright-related resources