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Is classical music copyrighted?

Published on | Updated on | 8 min reading time
Is classical music copyrighted?

Holding a degree in Business Administration and Programming, Pablo established Legis Music in 2016. With a focus on the royalty-free music industry, he has contributed extensively to the field, authoring over 150 articles on various aspects of music licensing. His efforts have been instrumental in developing one of the most straightforward and liberal music licensing frameworks available today.

Key Takeaways

  • Copyright is the set of personal and proprietary rights that allow the author of a work to control and benefit from its use, within the limits established by law.
  • Copyright protection includes authorship and the prevention of unauthorized or distorted uses of the work. This legal protection exists in most countries, although specific laws and regulations vary. It generally protects a work for several decades after the author’s death, usually up to 70 years after.
  • Although classical music may be protected by copyright, it may be protected by the law in most countries. This legal protection exists in most countries, although specific laws and regulations vary. It generally protects a work for several decades after the author’s death, usually up to 70 years after.
  • Although classical music may be protected by copyright, there are several aspects to consider, such as the score, lyrics (if any), musical arrangements, and musical performance.
  • When copyright expires, works enter the Public Domain, which means they can be used freely without permission or payment to the author.
  • Many works of classical music are in the public domain, especially those by composers who died more than 70 years ago.
  • Copyright law applies to modern performances and recordings of classical music. This includes rights in audio and video recordings, scores, arrangements, and performance rights.
  • While some classical works are in the public domain, modern arrangements and transcriptions of these works may be protected by copyright.

Classical music has been one of the most important and recognised forms of expression in Western culture for centuries.

registro derechos de autor españaThe works of great composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, among others, have been performed and studied by generations of musicians and music lovers all over the world.

In addition, this musical genre is characterised by the possibilities it offers listeners when working, concentrating and relaxing, both for the sense of peace and tranquillity it conveys, as well as for the motivation and feeling of being deeply focused on the task at hand.

musica instrumental para videosIt is for this reason that classical music is used as background music in films and advertisements: it is very useful for conveying emotions with instruments and reinforcing the visual image without the need for accompanying lyrics.

However, despite its relevance, there is still some confusion about what happens with copyright in this genre.

Thus, this article will analyse the current situation, how copyright is applied, its relevance and future perspectives.

First of all, a brief overview of what copyright is, to whom it belongs and how it is protected.

According to the RAE (Spanish Royal Academy), copyright is:

The rights of a personal and patrimonial nature that attribute to the author the full disposition and exclusive right to the exploitation of his work without any limitations other than those established by law.

In other words, copyrights are those rights granted by law to the author of a work, in this case a piece of music, which allow him to have exclusive control over his work and the benefits it generates.

In addition, copyright protection allows the author to claim authorship and to oppose any unauthorised or distorted use of his work.

This legal protection takes place in most countries of the world, although specific laws and regulations vary from country to country.

In general, copyright is usually protected for a certain period of time, usually several decades after the author’s death.

However, do these copyrights also protect classical music songs?

The short answer is yes, although there are several aspects to take into account.

The relationship between classical music and copyright is complex and has been the subject of debate in the field of intellectual property, since, in general terms, it may be subject to copyright protection depending on certain criteria and aspects established by law.

The following is a list of all those aspects of a song that may be subject to copyright:

  • Score. The score is an intellectual creation of the author that allows the musicians to perform the work and can therefore be protected.
  • Lyrics. If the musical work is a song, the lyrics may also be copyrighted.
  • Musical arrangement. If a work is modified to be performed by different instruments or with different instrumentation, that musical arrangement may also be copyrightable.
  • Musical performance. When an orchestra or a musician performs a musical work, his or her performance may be copyrightable, as long as it meets the criteria established by law.

Although these are the components of a musical work that are protected by copyright, it should be noted that, in some cases, songs may not be protected.

musica para videos de viajes descargarThis is because, as mentioned in the previous section, copyright protection has a limited period of time, which is usually several decades after the author’s death –usually 70 years-.

On our website we have an article dedicated exclusively to the duration of copyright, which specifies the exact duration depending on the country.

So what happens when these rights expire?

What happens is that the musical works become Public Domain.

dominio-publicoThe Public Domain is a term that refers to all those works that are no longer protected by copyright, so they can be used without the need for any permission or payment to the author of the works.

Music that is in the Public Domain can be copied, distributed, adapted, performed and displayed in public free of charge.

In other words, it is as if they belong to everyone.

Thus, most classical music songs belong in the Public Domain , because they are very old songs and belong to great composers who died more than 70 years ago.

Copyright law applies to modern performances and recordings of classical music in several ways.

Some important aspects are mentioned below:

  • Copyright in audio and video recordings: Audio and video recordings of modern classical music performances may be protected by copyright. The owners of the copyright in these recordings have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute and publicly display the recording, as well as to license and receive royalties for its use.
  • Copyright in scores and arrangements: Scores and arrangements of modern classical music may also be protected by copyright. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to control the performance, recording and distribution of these scores and arrangements.
  • Performance rights: Musicians and orchestras can claim the exclusive right to perform a musical work and demand royalty payments for its performance. In some cases, musicians and orchestras may also have copyrights in the recordings of their performances.
  • Use of works in the Public Domain: Some classical music works are in the public domain and may be used without restriction. However, it is important to note that some arrangements and transcriptions of works in the public domain may be protected by copyright.

Ultimately, copyright law applies in various ways to modern performances and recordings of classical music. It is important that musicians, orchestras and copyright owners understand their rights and obligations in this area to ensure that the rights of all stakeholders are respected.


important copyright in background musicAs we have seen, classical music is indeed protected by copyright. Or rather, different aspects of a musical work are subject to copyright: the score, the lyrics, the musical arrangement and the musical performance.

However, most works of classical music are now in the Public Domain, that means they are no longer copyrighted because the copyright has expired after the period stipulated by law following the death of the author.

canciones sin copyright para youtube gratisTherefore, it is important to inform yourself in advance before using any song in order to avoid copyright problems and to use it safely.

If you have any questions about this or any other issue related to background music, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to help you.

In any case, here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about copyright in classical music.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • How long do classical music copyrights usually last?

A song is protected from the moment of its creation until, generally, 70 years after the author’s death.

After that time, it becomes Public Domain.

  • Are there any special considerations for the public performance of classical music?

When classical music is heard outside the circle of family and friends, it becomes a public performance.

If they are protected by copyright, permission must be sought from the authors, composers and publishers.

This is called “performance rights”.

  • Does the copyright situation vary between different versions of classical music?

Three situations can be highlighted:

  1. Classical music that we can call “old” such as that of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and many others is free of copyright. Because it follows the law of 1987, in which after 70 years after the death of the author, the compositions fall into the Public Domain.
  2. Modern” classical music can be copyrighted.
  3. Finally, performed music. It depends on what the author has decided.
  • Do I need permission to use classical music in my own work or recordings?

It all depends on what kind of classical music we are talking about: modern or early classical music.

In both cases, if you want to use it for commercial purposes, you always have to make sure that they are not protected by copyright.

Keep in mind that recordings are always more risky if you have recorded them illegally at a concert or even from a CD.


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