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Types of Sheet Music That Are in the Public Domain

There are many types of public domain sheet music options – you just need to know what you’re looking for.  When searching for music that is available for free use, you want to find public domain sheet music so that you can have royalty-free access to record, distribute, and modify the music.  Here are the most common types of sheet music that you will find currently in the public domain. 

Music Published Before 1923:

Any music that was published prior to 1923 is automatically in the public domain and available for use. Please note there may be some exceptions to this rule. This includes the majority of classical music, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach.  This free sheet music can be used for performance, recording, or inspiration without having to pay any royalties.


Music Donated to Public Domain By the Creator:

While some people create music for profit, there are many other composers that truly want their music to be enjoyed, loved, and used by all.  For this reason, instead of copyrighting their works, they instead dedicate the work into the public domain.  This has created a wealth of free sheet music from modern times that is available for use.  One watchout is that new works are automatically copyrighted when they are published (no forms required), so to put the music in the public domain, the originator must put into writing that they wish to donate the music to the public domain.


Music Without a Renewed Copyright (Created Between 1923 – 1963): 

The copyright laws for these years required a form to be submitted to renew music’s copyright.  It is estimated that 85% of music from this time period did not renew their copyrights.


Music With Expired Copyright:

All copyrights expire at some point (usually the life of the originator plus a certain number of years), so after that time has passed, the sheet music transitions into the public domain.