Classical music has captivated audiences for centuries with its rich heritage and timeless compositions.

From the intricate symphonies of Mozart to the grand operas of Verdi, these melodies have transcended time and continue to resonate with listeners worldwide.

One may question whether classical music is eligible for copyright protection.

This article revolves around the question “Is classical music copyrighted?” and gives you helpful insight.

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Is Classical Music Copyrighted?

Classical music, like any other form of creative work, is protected by copyright laws.

Copyright law provides legal protection to the creators of original musical compositions, including classical music, by granting them exclusive rights and preventing unauthorised use or reproduction of their works.

When a composer creates a classical music composition, they automatically hold the copyright to that piece.

This means that other individuals or entities must seek permission from the copyright holder to perform, record, distribute, or make any other use of the composition.

It’s important to note that copyright protection applies to the specific arrangement and expression of a classical music piece.

While the underlying musical ideas or themes may not be protected by copyright (as they may be derived from the public domain or common musical elements), the specific sheet music, scores, or recordings of performances are protected.

The duration of copyright protection for classical music compositions varies across different countries, but it generally lasts for the life of the composer plus a certain number of years after their death.

In many cases, this protection extends for several decades or even longer.

Is Classical Music Royalty-Free?

Not all classical music is royalty-free, although there are royalty-free options available.

The term “royalty-free music” refers to music that can be used without the need to pay royalties.

However, it’s important to note that classical music compositions may still be subject to copyright protection.

When you purchase royalty-free classical music, you obtain a license that allows you to use the track for your specific project.

This licensing arrangement simplifies the process and eliminates the need for ongoing royalty payments.

So, while there is royalty-free classical music, it’s essential to understand that not all classical music automatically falls under this category.

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Public Domain

The public domain refers to the collection of creative works that are not protected by copyright or any other intellectual property rights.

These works are freely available for anyone to use, copy, modify, distribute, or adapt without the need for permission or payment to the original creator or copyright holder.

What is the Timeline for Music to Become Part of the Public Domain?

The expiration of copyright protection marks the point at which music enters the public domain.

In India, the copyright term for a music track is 60 years after the death of the author.

If a piece of music has multiple authors, the copyright duration is 60 years after the last surviving author’s death.

However, it’s important to note that if the author intentionally places the original music in the public domain or the track was created before the implementation of music copyright laws, it can enter the public domain earlier.

Understanding the specific copyright laws and durations in your country is crucial to determine when a particular music track enters the public domain.

Related Article: Copyright in Musical Works in India

Incorporating Classical Music Pieces from the Public Domain into Your Projects

Using public-domain classical music for your projects can be a wonderful way to enhance your content.

However, it’s essential to exercise caution, especially when using specific recordings that might still be copyrighted.

Here are some important points to consider:

  1. Public Domain Composition: If a classical piece of music is in the public domain, you have the freedom to use the composition itself without seeking permission or paying royalties.
  2. Recording Copyright: Be aware that the specific recordings available for download or on CDs may still be protected by copyright. Using these recordings in your content can pose risks, as the recording itself may not be in the public domain.
  3. Risks of Using Copyrighted Recordings: If you use copyrighted recordings in your content, there are potential consequences. At best, your video may have its audio track removed. If you violate copyright laws, record companies may initiate legal proceedings and remove your video, which could impact your ability to earn revenue from your content.
  4. Consider Rerecording: To mitigate these risks, one option is to rerecord the public domain music yourself or use recordings that explicitly state they are in the public domain. This way, you can ensure that the specific recording you use is free from copyright restrictions.
  5. Copyright Claims on Recordings: Even though the composition itself may be public domain, publishers may still assert copyright claims on the recordings. This is why using copyrighted recordings without permission can still result in legal issues.

When using public-domain classical music, it’s crucial to research the copyright status of the composition and recordings and exercise caution to avoid any potential copyright infringement.

Copyright Intricacies

Understanding the complexities of copyright is crucial when it comes to classical music. While certain classical compositions may be in the public domain, there are still important copyright considerations to keep in mind, particularly regarding recordings.

Copyright law recognises two types of protection, one for compositions and another for recordings.

Classical pieces that are in the public domain may be used for purposes such as rerecordings or live performances without any legal restrictions.

The use of pre-recorded classical music is not allowed because of copyright restrictions on the recordings.

When you own the copyright to a specific recording or arrangement, it means you have created your own rendition of the song and own the rights to that particular version.

Record companies invest significant resources in producing recordings, hiring orchestras, and creating unique arrangements, making them the rightful owners of those recordings.

It’s important to note that while nobody owns the compositions themselves, someone can own the recordings and arrangements associated with them. This means that classical music remains copyrighted and is not automatically royalty-free.

Classical music CDs are usually intended for personal listening purposes only when purchased.


Let’s take the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as an example.

The original nursery rhyme dates back to the 19th century and is now in the public domain.

This means that the lyrics and melody are free for anyone to use without seeking permission or facing copyright restrictions.

However, if a music production company releases a specific recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with their own arrangement and performance, they hold the copyright to that particular recording.

Unauthorised use of their recording without obtaining permission or a license would infringe on their copyright.

Remember, public domain status applies to the original composition, while copyright pertains to specific recordings and arrangements.

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How Does Copyright Law Apply to Classical Music Performances and Recordings Today?

Copyright law applies to modern performances and recordings of classical music in several ways, protecting the rights of composers, performers, and recording entities. Here’s an explanation:

  1. Performance Rights: When a modern performance of a classical composition takes place, whether it’s a live concert or a digital recording, performance rights come into play. Performers, such as orchestras or soloists, typically require permission to publicly perform the work. This ensures that the rights of the composer and other relevant parties are respected.
  2. Recording Rights: If a modern recording of a classical music performance is made, the recording itself can be protected by copyright. This includes audio and video recordings. The copyright in the recording is separate from the underlying composition and may be owned by the recording artist, the producer, or the recording label. Obtaining proper licenses or permissions is necessary when using or distributing these recordings.
  3. Composition Rights: Classical compositions themselves may be protected by copyright, especially if they were created in recent times. The copyright to the composition belongs to the composer or their estate. Using the composition for performances or recordings typically requires obtaining the appropriate licenses or permissions.
  4. Arrangements and Transcriptions: If someone creates a new arrangement or transcription of a classical composition, their arrangement can be protected by copyright. This means that using their specific arrangement without permission would infringe upon their rights. It’s important to respect the copyright of arrangements, even if the original composition is in the public domain.
  5. Public Domain: Some classical compositions are in the public domain, meaning their copyrights have expired, or the composers intentionally dedicated them to the public. In such cases, anyone can freely use the composition without seeking permission or paying royalties. However, it’s crucial to verify the public domain status of specific compositions and be aware of any copyright protection that may apply to arrangements or recordings.

Other Factors May Still Apply

It’s easy to assume that since many artists from the past are no longer alive, their music would be free to use.

However, this is not always the case, as many artists have taken steps to copyright their work for specific purposes.

For instance, consider GM Barrie’s renowned work, “Peter Pan.” This piece is still protected by copyright because it is associated with ongoing royalties.

The royalties generated from the use of “Peter Pan” are donated to the “Hospital for Sick Children” in London. As long as the hospital exists, the copyright and associated royalties will remain in effect.

Throughout history, you can find numerous artists who have made similar arrangements or donations with their copyrighted works.

It’s crucial to conduct thorough research and cross-check information before using specific pieces of music.

This will help you ensure that you comply with any copyright restrictions or donation agreements associated with the quality music you intend to use.


Copyright protection for classical music is no different than that of any other genre.

The term “copyright” encompasses various aspects of music, including musical compositions, sound recordings, and recorded performances.

Classical sheet music, classical music recordings, and classical music tracks are all protected under classical music copyrights.

When it comes to using copyrighted classical music, it is important to understand the legal implications.

Using copyrighted music in films, as background music, or for other purposes requires obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions.

Downloading music without permission or sharing it with the public without authorisation can lead to legal consequences.

Music producers, music fans, and those involved in music lessons should be aware of sound recording rights and the term of protection for different works.

While classical compositions may enter the public domain after a certain period, recorded performances and sound recordings of those compositions may still be protected.

To navigate the complexities of classical music copyrights, seeking legal advice can be beneficial.

This ensures compliance with copyright laws and helps protect the rights of composers, performers, and recording entities.

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What is the duration of copyright for classical music?

The duration of classical music copyrights can vary depending on the country and specific circumstances.

In general, copyright protection for classical music lasts for several decades after the death of the composer.

For example, in the United States, copyrights typically last for the composer’s lifetime plus 70 years.

Is there variation in copyright laws for different versions of classical music?

The copyright status of classical music can differ among various versions.

While the underlying composition may be in the public domain, specific arrangements, transcriptions, or recordings of classical music pieces can have their own copyright protection.

This means that using a particular version of a classical music piece without permission may infringe on the copyright of the arrangement or recording.

Is permission required to use classical music in my own work or recordings?

Yes, generally, you need permission to use classical music in your own work or recordings, especially if you plan to distribute or publicly perform the music.

This applies to both the composition itself and any copyrighted arrangements or recordings.

It’s advisable to seek proper licenses or permissions from copyright holders or use works that are in the public domain.

Is classical music free of copyright?

No, classical music is not inherently free of copyright.

Is it illegal to sample classical music?

Sampling classical music without permission can potentially infringe on copyright.

Using samples from copyrighted classical music recordings or arrangements in your own work usually requires obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions.