Music is protected by copyright in a number of ways. Printed scores are covered as musical works, but the lyrics are literary works. Recorded music is also covered as sound recordings.  Regulations for printed and recorded music vary.

Printed music

A musical work is within copyright for the life of any of the composers, editors or authors and for 70 years after their death.  It will also be in copyright if the printed edition has been published in the last 25 years. Printed music may have several copyright owners: the composer for the musical score, the writer of the lyrics, and the publisher for the printed edition. 

Permitted use

Printed music is not covered by the CLA Licence for teaching. Students or staff may, however, copy limited short excerpts of musical works, under appropriate fair dealing exceptions for the purposes of private study, research and teaching.

The Music Publishers Association publishes a Code of Fair Practice agreed between composers, publishers and users of printed music.  This code permits copying of music published by MPA members in some circumstances, including:

  • short excerpts may be copied for private study and research, but not for performance. Whole movements or whole works may not be copied.
  • in emergencies if music is lost or damaged before a pre-arranged concert copies can be made as long as the replacements are purchased later, or if the music is hired, the copy should be returned with other hired copies. 
  • for performance difficulties, e.g. turning score pages during a recital, a small amount may be copied.

Please see the full MPA Code of Fair Practice for further details.

The MPA have further information on the use of printed music in their Frequently Asked Questions.

Recorded music

Copyright in a sound recording is normally owned by the producer of the recording. This is separate from the copyright for the musical content in the recording, which includes the musical score and the lyrics.  There are also performance rights to consider for the performer(s) of the work. 

The duration of copyright of a sound recording is normally 70 years form the year it is published, or if it is not published from the year it is communicated to the public. If a recording is not released to the public then copyright lasts for 50 years from the date of creation. 

Permitted use

  • Copies of short extracts of sound recordings may be made under fair dealing exceptions, such as for criticism or review, or for illustrating a teaching point. Downloading whole music files from the internet without the permission of the copyright owners or under licence infringes copyright.
  • Under section 34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 performances of musical, literary or dramatic works for the purpose of instruction at an educational establishment are allowed without licence. This means that staff may play a sound recording to classes of registered students for educational purposes. The audience must only consist of staff and students.
  • The PRS for Music (Performers Rights Society) represents songwriters, composers and music publishers. The PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) represent performers and record companies. Both provide licences for public performance, including broadcasting or playing music recordings, of their members' music. In many cases organisations will need both a PRS and PPL licence for public performance of musical works.

The university has PRS/PPL licences for halls of residence and some other buildings, such as the Trent Building. For enquiries about licence coverage, contact Kirsty Proctor (Catering Services).


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