Guidelines for the use of music under copyright

When do I use copyright protected music ?

When do I need a license to use music under copyright ?

How do I get permission to use music under copyright ?

When do I use copyright protected music

A brief definition of the use of music under copyright and public domain

If you are new to the copyright issue you should read our other copyright infos too. This short paragraph is not a complete description of all possibilities, but it will give you the idea, what you must consider when you use music under copyright.

If you play, or perform, or record any music by any means - not written (this means invented / composed) by yourself - you are using music created by someone else and this music is most likely under copyright . Only if this someone else - the composer- is dead for more than 50 years, you are probably no longer required to obtain permission, since the copyright expires after this time period and the music becomes public domain. This is the case for most classical music and traditionals from all around the world.

However, if you use sheet music of traditionals ( MIDI files are electronic sheet music) you may already use a new arrangement or new version, which is again copyright protected! You will find more on this in Computer Music files and copyright, though the issue applies to all forms of computer music files- just replace the word Music with MIDI or with your music file format !.

Check the copyright notice !   Never remove a copyright notice or alter them, this is falsification of a document ! (criminal activity)
So far you may see, that if you are not a composer performing your own creations, or you are playing only classical or traditional tunes of long dead composers, you are using music under copyright.


If you play music (especially recorded music ), or you are recording music ( includes all formats) that is not public domain you are using music under copyright and you need a license to do so !.

The next paragraph deals with this issue more specifically.

When do I need a license to use music under copyright ?

Every time you use such music for any other than your personal use . That is the law !

The user is liable to obtain the license first, before performing or recording such copyright protected music ! This applies to music on Web pages too! You can find another perspective on this tricky issue in Homepage-part of my home?.

You do not need such a license for your personal use, that is, if you make one recording of your playing for yourself, or play music for yourself at home

This is different again, when you intend to give away or sell your recording, or if your performance has an audience ! You will be surprised, that a few people constitute an audience, even in your own home! Most likely nobody will come after you, but at the moment, when it is classifiable as a public performance, you must obtain a license first! (copyright law)  If you perform as a musician under a contract, the event organizer must obtain this license, check your contract carefully that this is not "downloaded" to you!. Most entertainment premisses have a 'blanket'-license, so you are covered, however, you might be required to make a list of the music you performed, so make and keep a record of it for yourself - always.In one case we know of such a list was demanded by court nearly a year after the event - could you recall every song you played at this event, even if you had only few gigs since then ?

You also need a (different ) license, if you record copyright protected music. The moment you give only one copy to someone else, you are distributing or duplicating the music and it is no longer your personal use, you must get a license to do so first.  You also record protected music without a license if you "only" download "free" music files! Many computer music users are not aware that their recordings and exchanges are violations of copyrights. Read the article on Computer music files and copyright and to say it again this applies to all computer sound file formats !)

However, there is a claim this does not apply to music files used for listening while browsing, when temporarily stored in cache only.Only retrieving or saving of such music files is recording ! This opinion is of course upheld by people who have a commercial interest in NOT being billed for their music use. ( See also Homepage-part of my home?) However this issue is currently "unresolved" - but don't get trapped, use only music files which are licensed for use on Webpages, like midi-LOOPs -forever music.   Even if you buy music files this does not include the right to use them for public performance , exchange etc.- read the license agreement that comes with the files ! If they have none beware!!

Since unauthorized or anonymous download is not controllable, anyone who provides for unregistered download of files containing music under copyright is already a target, and can be held liable for any damages copyright lawyers can dream up and get in court. The copyright laws allow for hefty fines - see the advertisements in your magazines - those apply to any violation of copyright, not only software - by the way, all computer music files are software too!

Any time you play music under copyright "live" or use recorded music in front of an audience - you need a "performance" license ! For recorded music even an additional neighbouring rights license in many countries (the number is growing see the copyright info for more on this)
At any time you duplicate recorded copyright protected music you need a "mechanical rights" license to do so !
The next paragraph shows you where to go to get the proper license.

How do I get permission to use music under copyright ?

by contacting the appropriate licensing agency

Since nobody can track down all composers or publishers to obtain such permissions - called licenses - agencies have been established.

Such copyright agencies exist in nearly every country in the world and they all have bilateral agreements with most other countries' agencies, that means they look after the rights of all copyright owners, national and foreign, in their respective country. Therefore the coverage of copyright licensing is in effect worldwide.

They can say NO - or not even answering you at all - that means NO too

the latter applies especially to requests for altering songs / text etc.
this can only be permitted by the publisher / author of the original

Which agency is responsible for your licensing depends on the country you live in, but each agency knows the others very well and they will direct you to the right one, if you come to them by accident. Especially in the USA there are several agencies doing the same type of licensing for only a part of copyright owners but all know of the others and have the address.

The listing for Canada  

For performing rights contact  SOCAN  Web page at

For mechanical rights contact  CMRRA  Web page at

  The listing for GERMANY  

For all copyright issues contact   GEMA   Webpage at

their newly created Multi Media Agency info is at

In the USA
contacts are       ASCAP      Harry Fox Agency

 International office of BIEM, in Paris France (Mechanical Rights)

 The above agencies have listings of their international affiliates, where you may find the one for every country you need.

CHECK ONLINE / search for   copyright (in your country)

e.g  >   Copyright UK      for Great Britain
or   > mechanical rights ES  for Spain

there will be lots of pages  - check the first pages of links and you shall find


We will append our list as needed too.If you provide the address for you country we will list it
if one of the above links gets outdated "google" the name

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