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Legal Primer on Public Domain Sheet Music


Important Note: We are not lawyers, and this website does not provide legal advice. The purpose of this article is to provide a general guide, written by non-lawyers, attempting to answer some common basic questions about Public Domain Sheet Music. For legal advice you must consult your attorney.


Before using any sheet music, you need to understand what you are legally allowed to do with that music.  There are many sources of free sheet music (also called public domain sheet music), however, it can often be confusing about what you are and are not allowed to do.  This guide will help point you in the right direction and allow you to get the most benefit from the free sheet music available today.


Personal Use:  You can use any sheet music (free or otherwise) for practice in the confines of your home, provided you do not obtain the music illegally.


Public Performance:  If you want to perform in public, you need to be sure that you have free sheet music (not copyrighted), otherwise you might need to pay performance royalties to the original creator and get special permission.  Free sheet music can be performed by anyone who wishes to perform it, with no fees required.


Music Alteration:  With free sheet music, you can change it, alter it, and use pieces of it for inspiration in other original works.  When a piece of music enters the public domain, there is no commitment that the music must remain in its entire, original form.


Reproducing:  Free sheet music can be photocopied (or reproduced in any form) as many times as you like without paying any fees.  Additionally, you can give those copies to anyone you like.  For example, a chorus director can pass out free sheet music to their members or a student can post a piece of public domain sheet music on their website for the world to see and use.