There are different aspects to music & sound recording copyright. A music composition may involve rights in the score and also in the lyrics. Entirely different rights and rights holders may arise from sound recordings of that work.
Music copyright can be complicated. In the following sections are key resources you may find helpful when you are trying to find answers.
When an idea is expressed in a fixed medium – whether it be a painting, a score, a sound recording on CD, a poem, etc. – it has legal copyright protections for a set period of time.
FAIR USE – MAKING A CASE
Making a case for fair use – music/media contexts
MUSIC COPYRIGHT RESOURCES
Seeking permission from a rights-holder may reduce the risks associated with a project if it is unclear whether your proposed reproduction or public distribution (in print or online) of an in-copyright work is permitted under US copyright law. Where the associated rights are unclear, or if the intended distribution of a work is broad (for example, where the proposed use is designed to be shared online without restriction), seeking permission for your use now may be the lowest-cost avoider of potential problems in future.
Requesting permission is not necessary if the work you would like to borrow from:
When an idea is expressed in a fixed medium, whether it be a painting, a score, a sound recording on CD, a poem, etc., it has legal copyright protections for a set period of time, allowing the creator to use or exploit the fruit of their work as they see fit, or not at all. In the past, this copyright required some formality in the way of registration or notice, but that is no longer the case for new works.
Once that period of time expires, or if the creator failed to comply with any required legal formalities, the work enters the public domain – meaning it belongs to everyone, without restriction. Before the expiration of copyright, the creator may also decide to dedicate the work to the public domain, giving that creation to the public to use.
Determining what is or isn't in the public domain can be a complicated and lengthy process. However, these charts compiled by Peter Hirtle of Cornell University Library – "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States (PDF version)" – can help guide you through complex US copyright rules.
HOW TO SEEK PERMISSIONS
You can find music resources online that are available to use freely, without needing to argue for fair use or to request permission (for one of the reasons given above).
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