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The Top 10 Things to Know About Public Domain Sheet Music


Whether you are an aspiring artist or an experienced composer, here are ten things that every musician should know about public domain or free sheet music.

  1. Public domain sheet music is free sheet music.  You don’t have to pay to use it.

  2. Anything published or created before 1923 is in the public domain and is free sheet music. (There may be some exceptions to this rule.)

  3. If you use public domain sheet music, you can copy or distribute it as many times as you like (this is especially useful for bands and choirs which need multiple copies of music).

  4. Once a piece of sheet music is put into the public domain, it cannot be copyrighted afterwards, even by the original creator.  It will always be free sheet music to the public.

  5. Many pieces of copyrighted material, including sheet music, lost their copyrights between 1923 and 1963 because they forgot to renew the copyright.  These pieces then became free sheet music.

  6. You even have the right to sell public domain sheet music if you like (for example, if you record yourself playing Mozart and sell it on a CD).

  7. Many people think that free sheet music is limited to classical music, but that is simply not the case.  While it might take a little more effort to determine if modern music is in the public domain or copyrighted, there are many pieces created recently that can be used as free sheet music.

  8. Anything published after 1963 is probably still copyrighted unless the creator has decided to donate it into the public domain and dedicate it as free sheet music.

  9. All pieces of music are automatically copyrighted when published – you don’t have to fill out a form anymore (thanks to new laws).

  10. You can use free sheet music as inspiration to create your own original, copyrighted material.