All About Copyright Law

Your Questions Answered: How Does Copyright Law Work?

One of the questions we are asked most frequently is why you can only print one copy of most sheet music titles after you purchase them. Well, the short answer is because we have an agreement with sheet music publishers to sell their property (the arrangement of a song) while fully protecting their rights under the law.

Copyright law can be a tricky subject. It affects any tangible form of expression, including sheet music, recorded music, books, newspaper articles, movies, images and more. In addition to it ethically being the correct thing to do, adhering to copyright law obviously also has legal implications that, if aren’t followed properly, can have very expensive consequences.

Below is a quick overview of copyright law, especially as it pertains to sheet music. If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. Copyright law is a topic very near and dear to our hearts here at Musicnotes, as we go to great lengths to ensure artists, writers and publishers receive fair and legal compensation for their hard work.

What Is Copyright Law?

Basically, copyright law protects intellectual property from being stolen. When you create an original work, for example writing a song, that piece of work is your property immediately as you create it. Nobody else can legally make copies of your work, perform your work, distribute copies of your work, share or use your work to make very similar works of their own without your permission.

How Does It Protect Publishers and Artists?

Just as copyright law protects you from others stealing your intellectual property, it also protects musicians, songwriters and music publishers from having their property stolen. When you legally purchase a piece of sheet music, you are compensating the parties who provided that property for your use. The publisher of the sheet music you purchased makes certain everyone who owns rights to that music gets paid their fair, legal share.

Why Do I Have to Follow It?

With very few exceptions, everybody is required to follow copyright law, and not doing so can land you in quite a bit of trouble. You’ll notice a © symbol with the year and owner on each piece of sheet music we offer. That shows you who owns rights to the piece (both music and lyrics) and what year the copyright began. Sometimes you’ll see multiple years and names on a piece, as more than one publisher/artist can own rights. In those cases, proceeds from their sheet music sales are split.

When you buy a piece of digital sheet music, you are purchasing one copy of the piece, the same as if you visited a store and bought a single copy of sheet music. You’re paying the owners of the song for their intellectual property. However, if you were to lose or accidentally ruin your sheet music, you couldn’t go back to the store and demand a free copy, right? Digital sheet music is the same. Your purchase includes one physical copy only. Making additional copies, digitally scanning or sharing copies without paying for them is considered stealing and is illegal.

Similarly, copyright law deems each key of a song to be an individual piece of property, so you can only print out your digital file in a single key. After your original print-out, you must pay for additional prints of your sheet music in order to adhere to copyright laws.

What About Musicnotes Editions?

Many of the sheet music titles we offer are published by Musicnotes. “Musicnotes Editions,” as we call them, are typically public domain, meaning that their original copyrights have expired, and they are now free for anyone to reproduce, distribute and perform. Musicnotes still owns the rights for our specific arrangements of public domain works, and you’ll see the copyright information on the bottom of Musicnotes Editions. We provide these professional arrangements for purchase, and allow you to print unlimited copies of our copyrighted works with your single purchase.

Being able to play a wide variety of sheet music is a wonderful privilege, and we’re very grateful to the publishers, artists and writers who share their talent and hard work. Remember to always check your sources for copyright compliance. That way, we all can help protect the prosperity of music creators for generations to come.



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  2. When we purchase the digital copy of the work – either the standard or Musicnotes Editions – do we also receive the right to perform it at venues and concerts? Or is the right to perform purchased separately through ASCAP? Thank you!

  3. Bethan

    If I were to purchase a piece of music to perform at my church service (I know that worship services have special exemptions, and I would not be photocopying the music) would I legally be able to then upload the performance to our churches youtube channel? Would I have to note the source of the sheet music purchase?

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