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Dictionary of Public Domain Terms


Public domain sheet music (free sheet music) can be difficult to understand at times.  In order to help you make sense of the complex laws surrounding sheet music copyrighting, here is a short glossary of terms.


Copyright:  A copyright is a legal protection for original works such as sheet music to protect the author and prevent other people from making use of the material for non-authorized purposes.  Currently, all original work is copyrighted as soon as at least one copy is published to the general public.  Not all copyrighted sheet music will state the copyright information on it, but that doesn’t mean that it is not copyrighted.


Copyright Renewal:  For a number of years, it was required to officially renew a piece of sheet music’s copyright to avoid having it become public domain or free sheet music.  Many pieces of sheet music entered the public domain when the original author failed to renew their copyrights.


Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA):  This is a law put into effect in 1998 to extend copyright laws to keep up with the technological advances associated with the internet.


Fair Use:  Fair use laws are intended to help protect users who are making use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances (such as for educational purposes).


Public Domain:  If sheet music is said to be in the public domain, then it is available for use as free sheet music and does not require any royalties or other fees to be paid in order to use it.  Public domain sheet music can be copied, sold, performed, recorded, and modified without permission or payment to the original author.