How to keep your sheet music costs down but legal – words Alan Woods

Suppliers of sheet music for pianists, guitarists, studio musicians, and music organization directors offer an incredibly large choice of classical and contemporary scores.

Musicians who search the catalogs of these suppliers will notice that some music scores are offered for free, while others are offered for a price. So how do you keep your sheet music costs down but legal?

The main distinction between sheet music that is free to download and print, and music that comes with a price, is the existence of public domain rules and regulations. Most people do not realize that music scores are classified as a type of intellectual property like any other invention, or manuscript. There are international laws guiding how musical intellectual property is distributed.

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Specifics of Public Domain Music

The rules for classifying music as public domain has recently gone through changes. It is understood that once a composer has been deceased, and his or her music has had time to filter through decades of music libraries, that music should be considered property of the general public.

The bulk of public domain law states that music becomes public property 50 to 75 years after a composer’s death, or 95 years after an original publication date. This means, without renewal by a publishing house with direct rights to scores, about one century of time makes music free to the public for copying, distribution, and programming in concerts. To illustrate, Mozart died in the year 1791. After the year 1890, all of his music was available to the public for free, except for certain pieces held under special copyrights.

Modern Music and Sheet Music Distributors

Music copyrighted previous to the year 1922 is considered to be public domain. Some special scores are held by the original publishing houses who pay large sums to retain claim to them. This is why some early scores in genres like jazz often have exorbitant prices attached to them.

Modern copyright laws allow for flexible pricing on modern scores if they can be classified as arrangements. This means a score possesses slight alterations when compared with the original. After being classified as an arrangement, a publishing house or website is free to distribute the score as they please. Popular modern songs and scores are easy to find for free, or a nominal fee because editors and arrangers make certain changes to the original scores. These changes preserve the integrity of the music, but satisfy the requirements to not be included in public domain requirements.

Sheet music services like Musicnotes.com that offer scores for popular and contemporary songs, are functioning completely within the guidelines of copyrighting and publishing laws. They are providing a service to the academic and performing arts communities by producing sheet music that retains the intent of composers, while making their music accessible to a wide audience.

How to keep your sheet music costs down but legal – words Alan Woods

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