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'Public Domain' means a work is no longer protected by copyright and can be freely distributed.
For an Introduction to copyright and the public domain, see: Copyright Made Simple

Contents

Basics of Canadian Copyright Law

IMSLP follows Canadian copyright laws because the main IMSLP servers are physically hosted in Canada.

To simplify, Canadian copyright expires 50 years after the death of the composer or other author. Only works first published in countries that are members of the WTO or Berne Convention are subject to copyright in Canada. In most cases this applies retrospectively, unless the work was already public domain in the country where it was first published when either treaty was signed.

Works published before 1923 are public domain in the US, but may not be in Canada and other countries. These US-only public domain works are hosted separately by IMSLP-US, but are searchable from this site. Users cannot upload such works as all normal uploads are to the main servers (located in Canada).

The copyright expiration year depends on the death year of "last surviving contributor" (composer, arranger, editor, author of text, etc.).

  • Example 1: Henle published a re-engraved edition of Beethoven sonatas in 1985, with an editor who is still living.
- The work is not public domain because the editor is still living, and the new engraving is copyrighted.
  • Example 2: Dover published a reprint of an old (public domain) edition of Beethoven sonatas in 1995.
- The work is public domain (except for the new title page and cover) because reprinting of public domain works does not qualify for copyright.

Some groups will re-print public domain editions with no new editing and write "copyright 20XX" even though the work does not qualify for copyright protection. This is known as copy-fraud, and despite the claim, the work is in the public domain. The copyright claim can usually be found on the bottom of the first page of a score.

Legal Uploading

While works in the Canadian public domain that remain protected in the US are allowed for inclusion in the archive, it is possible that scanning and uploading such a work could constitute a violation of the US law for those who reside in the US.

Determining Copyright Term

The following tables apply to 2014. The term "author" refers to either the composer, an orchestrator or arranger, an editor of a non-urtext edition, or an author of text which was set to music by the composer. Under nearly all life-plus XX years statutes, this refers to the last surviving author.

Copyright on the composition and publication if author known, first published before 1923
Author's death Canada,
life+50 countries
United States EU, Russia,
life+70 countries
Template to be used on IMSLP
< 1944
public domain
(life+50)
public domain
public domain
(life+70)
 None: always public domain
1944-1963
copyrighted
 Work:
Template:WorkNonPD-EU
> 1963
copyrighted
Composer: Template:Copyright
Work: Template:WorkPD-USonly
File: Template:FilePD-USonly
(Must be hosted on US Server!)
† (Extremely Rare Exception: certain foreign works published after 1909 might be protected in the western US states under the jurisdiction of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Copyright on the composition and publication if author known, first published after 1923
Author's death Canada,
life+50 countries
United States EU, Russia,
life+70 countries
Template to be used on IMSLP
< 1944
public domain (life+50)
copyrighted
unless proof of non-renewal and NIE status is provided‡
public domain (life+70)
 Template:WorkNonPD-US
 Template:FileNonPD-US
1944-1963
copyrighted
unless proof of non-renewal and NIE status is provided‡
copyrighted
Composer:
Template:ComposerNonPD-USandEU
Work:
Template:WorkNonPD-USandEU
File: Template:FileNonPD-USandEU
> 1963
copyrighted
Composer: Template:Copyright
Work: Template:WorknotPD
File: Template:FilenotPD
‡(US:Proof of non-renewal and NIE status applies mainly to works published 1923-1963. All works published 1964-1977 have been renewed automatically and enjoy a full term of 95 years after first publication provided notice and eligibility requirements were met. Works published 1978 and later are under copyright for life-plus-70, though notice and eligibility requirements remained in limited form until 1989.)
Corporate copyright on the publication, no author identified*
Year Published Canada,
life+50 countries
United States EU, Russia,
life+70 countries
Template to be used on IMSLP
before 1923
public domain (pub+50)
public domain
public domain (pub+70 in most countries)
 None: always public domain
1923-1943
copyrighted (pub.+95), unless public domain in country of first publication in 1996
File: Template:FileNonPD-US
1944-1963
Copyrighted
File: Template:FileNonPD-USandEU
> 1963
copyrighted
File: Template:FilenotPD
* In Canada and most other countries, the term changes to that governing known authors when an anonymous author is identified.


Author known, Unpublished works
Author's death Canada,
life+50 countries
United States EU, Russia,
life+70 countries
Comments
< 1944
public domain (life+50)**
public domain (life+70)
possibly copyright if really never published
 Possible Editio princeps claims
(25 years from 1st publication)
1944-1963
copyrighted
copyrighted
**Canada considers any "performance, recording, or delivery" as the equivalent of publication for works of authors who died between 1948 and 1963. Works which have never been performed, recorded or delivered are eligible for a term of first publication plus 50 years.
> 1963
copyrighted


Editions of Public Domain Works

Determining Type

There is no copyright in Canada purely in the act of publication itself. Thus any non-edited reprint or re-engraving of a public domain edition is also public domain. The term "edition" or the credit "edited by" has been liberally applied by publishers for items ranging from serious re-arrangements and re-orchestrations of the original work to completely unaltered reprints of older, public domain scores.

Insignificant editorial contributions have no copyright in themselves. Significant ones often do. The editor's contribution to the work must be of a significant and original nature, meeting a "threshold of originality," to qualify for copyright protection. Some examples:

  • Most Significant: Transcriptions, orchestrations, arrangements, creative realizations of continuo or figured bass parts.
  • Less Significant: Adding original (new) fingerings, articulations, slurs, dynamic and tempo markings, routine chordal realizations of figured basses.
  • Insignificant: Transposition, error correction, translation of common expressions and instrument names.
  • Insignificant: Adding fingerings, articulations, slurs, dynamic and tempo markings from other public domain sources.

Urtext or Critical Editions

The EU, and others, have special provisions for a limited copyright term (generally 25 years) for scholarly editions, including critical, urtext, or "scientific" editions (Bärenreiter, etc). It is unlikely that this type of edition, apart from text passages, contains sufficient original material to qualify for copyright status in Canada. However, out of caution, IMSLP voluntarily prohibits the posting of critical or urtext editions published less than 25 years ago, with the exception of those issued by government entities (such as the USSR).

Posthumous Publication (Editio Princeps)

Works first published after the composer's copyright term had expired are known as "posthumous works" and have a limited copyright term in most countries. In the case of long-dead composers, a public performance might count as the first publication for the purpose of determining which works qualify for editio princeps in some countries.

Canada

  • Posthumous works of composers who died after July 25, 1997 are protected for the author's lifetime plus 50 years.
  • Posthumous works of composers who died before July 25, 1997 fall into three categories.
  1. A posthumous work published* before July 25, 1997 retains copyright from the date of first publication (performance or delivery) plus 50 years.
  2. The unpublished* work of an author who died between July 25, 1947 and July 24, 1997, retains copyright until December 31, 2047.
  3. The unpublished* work of an author who died before July 25, 1947 is now public domain.

*The works of composers who died before July 25, 1997 which were "performed or delivered" during a composer's lifetime or later counts as being "published" upon the date of the first performance or delivery.

European Union

  • The publication is generally treated like a urtext or critical edition, giving 25 years after publication.

USA

  • Posthumous works first published between 1923 and 1977 with the proper copyright notice, registration and renewal are protected for 95 years.
  • Works first published from 1978-2002 are protected until Jan. 1, 2048.
  • Works of authors dead more than 70 years first published after 2002 are not subject to any copyright protection themselves, but only as a new edition or other derivative work.

Reprint Editions

Reprint editions of publications that are in public domain are not subject to copyright in Canada, the USA, the EU, and most (if not all) of the world. No copyright can be claimed on the scanning of a public domain work regardless of whether the original scanned is in printed or manuscript form.

Composers who will enter the public domain in the next few years

  • 2014
    • Countries with terms of life-plus-70 (EU and most of Europe)
      • Joseph Achron (1886–1943)
      • Edward Norman Hay (1889–1943)
      • Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
      • Josef Venantius von Wöss (1863-1943), many piano reductions
    • Countries with terms of life-plus-50 (Canada, China, Japan, S. Korea, etc.)
      • Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
      • Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
      • Paul Constantinescu (1909–1963)
      • Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963)
  • 2015
    • Countries with terms of life-plus-70 (EU and most of Europe)
      • Hermann Wenzel (1863-1944)
    • Countries with terms of life-plus-50 (Canada, China, Japan, S. Korea, etc.)
      • Joseph Marx (1882-1964)
  • 2016
    • Countries with terms of life-plus-50 (Canada, China, Japan, S. Korea, etc.)
      • Joseph Ryelandt (1870-1965)
      • Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)

International Copyright Treaties

See also:


Rule of the Shorter Term

In Berne signatory countries

This rule basically states that if a work is in the public domain in the country of origin, it is also public domain in any country that signed the Berne Convention. This rule has not been adopted by the USA or Canada.

The European Union applies the Rule of the Shorter Term for works whose country of origin is outside the EU. Thus, a work by an American composer which entered the public domain in the USA, is public domain in the EU. Under the Berne treaty, the Country of Origin is defined as the country of first publication of a given work.

In NAFTA Parties (U.S.A, Canada, Mexico)

North American Free Trade Agreement: Article 1703: National Treatment

  • 1. Each Party shall accord to nationals of another Party treatment no less favorable than that it
    accords to its own nationals with regard to the protection and enforcement of all intellectual
    property rights.

Copyright Laws by Country or Territory


Australia

Any work published in the lifetime of an author who died in 1954 or earlier, is out of copyright. The term for authors who died in 1955 or later is 70 years.

European Union

The 93/98/EC Copyright Directive, consolidated in the 2006/11/EC Directive, harmonized copyright terms for EU countries at life-plus-70 years. It also restored copyright status for works which had entered the public domain in member countries with life-plus-50 terms at the time.

  • Article 5 states that member states may protect "critical and scientific publications of works which have come into the public domain" for a maximum of thirty years after publication.
  • Article 4 grants copyright to the publisher of a public domain work which was previously unpublished for 25 years after the date of first publication (Editio Princeps), provided that the work in question is "legally published."


Czech Republic

All Czech government publications are in the public domain. This notably affects Artia/Orbis/SNKLHU/Supraphon, which was a government organization from 1948 to 1989. See the Czech Republic copyright act (file hosted by OSA, Czech author's rights organization).


France

As from January 1, 1995, the basic copyright has a duration of life of the last surviving author +70 years. Anonymous editions enjoy a copyright of 70 years after publication, or if not published, 70 years after creation. There is 30 extra years for authors who 'died in action' (like Jehan Alain). In addition, posthumous works are copyrighted 25 years from the year of publication. However, protection of musical works enjoys special time extension compensating for the war period (WWI and WWII). For composers who died before January 1, 1995, the time protection after death is 78 years and 120 days for works published between January 1, 1921 and December 31, 1947 and 84 years and 272 days for works published until December 31, 1920. This is why none of Ravel’s work is Public Domain in France in 2009 while it is so in many European countries. [1], [2], [3],[4]

Germany

The basic copyright has a duration of life of the last surviving author +70 years. Anonymous editions enjoy a copyright of 70 years after publication, or if not published, 70 years after creation. Posthumous first-time publications are protected for only 25 years after publication.

As per Article 70 of the German Urheberrechtsgesetz (copyright law), scientific editions, which is to say editions which are produced as a result of scientific analysis (i.e. scholarly or critical editions and urtext), have a copyright length of only publication + 25 years, meaning that all such scientific editions published in Germany before 1983 are in the public domain there. However, arrangements, transcriptions, orchestrations, continuo realizations, and interpretative editions enjoy a full term of protection of life-plus-70 years.

Hungary

  • Basic protection: 70 years p.m.a.
  • Posthumous publication: 25 years post-publication
See also: Franz Liszt: Neue Liszt-Ausgabe

Italy

  • Basic protection: 70 p.m.a.
  • Scientific and critical editions: 20 years [5]
  • Rights belonging to the State, the provinces, the communes, the academies or public cultural organizations, or to private legal entities of a non-profit making character: 20 years

Portugal

Portugal's basic copyright term is only 50 years after death of the last surviving author (even in the case of posthumously published works), or 50 years after publication if no author is identified. Portuguese copyright law reserves a separate article for Translation, arrangement, instrumentation, dramatization, filming and, in general, any transformation of a work but does not clearly specify a copyright protection for these works. (Law text at WIPO)

This 1985 law has been superseded by the EU's term of life-plus-70 years.


Russia / USSR

Russian Copyright Laws are fairly complicated and confusing. Basically, works of authors who died before 1943 are in public domain, whereas authors died 1943 or later are protected for life plus 70 years. This is the present interpretation found at Wikipedia. According to the Wikipedia article on the Russian Federation Copyright Law as amended in 2004, the change of term from 50pma to 70pma was not retroactive. The Russian Federation enacted the first post-Soviet copyright law in 1993, establishing a term of life-plus-50 years of the last surviving author, which established protection for authors who died in 1943 and later. The 2004 revisions, which came into force in 2006, were retroactive to the enactment of the original law (1993), making the 1943 date correct. To make matters more confusing, there is another provision of the law (article 1256) which holds that any works published before the November 7, 1917 in the Russian Republic of the Russian Empire and not republished within 30 days of the revolution are not subject to copyright protection. It is not known if works by authors who died later than 1942 which were published before 11/7/1917 are considered to be in this category.

The Copyright Law of Tsarist Russia was very similar to that of Germany, where works were granted a copyright term of life plus 50 years. However, Russia was not a signatory to the Berne Copyright Treaty (1888) and works of Russian composers were protected in Europe only via co-publication agreements between Russian publishers like Jurgenson and Bessel with firms in the West like D. Rahter, Bote & Bock, and Breitkopf & Härtel. With the communist revolution of 1917, this situation changed drastically. Individual copyright was initially abolished along with all other forms of property ownership. This change was disastrous for the copyright status of Russian composers - even those living in the West like Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky. Since all works - whether Soviet or foreign - effectively became the property of the state in the USSR, all Soviet works were held to be public domain in Western countries, even those of expatriate Soviet citizens. In order to comply with treaties to secure Western copyright status for works of Soviet authors, the Soviet goverment finally introduced a limited term of life plus 25 years in the 1928, amended to life plus 15 years in 1961. However, the Soviet state (USSR) completely controlled publication of all works of living or deceased persons on which the state claimed copyright. Although the original works of Soviet composers have been given copyright status elsewhere thanks to several treaties, editions of public domain works issued by Muzyka, the Soviet state music publishing agency, are generally considered to be in the public domain, as they were prepared by state employees working for a government agency, and the copyright owner (the USSR) ceased to exist in late 1991.

United Kingdom

The basic copyright has a duration of life of the last surviving author +70 years. Anonymous editions enjoy a copyright of 70 years after publication, or if not published, 70 years after creation.

The UK has a special law regarding "typographical arrangement" ("typographical arrangement" essentially means re-engraving). A "typographical arrangement" is only copyrighted for the length of publication + 25 years.[6] This would affect many of the originally German publishers who relocated to the UK (ex. Eulenburg).

United States

  • If a work was published before 1923, or first published in the U.S. from 1923-1963 without copyright renewal, it is almost certain to be public domain.
  • Works published by an individual after 1923 with proper copyright renewal are protected for life plus 70 years.
  • Works published by a corporation after 1923 with no author listed are protected for 95 years from publication.

Currently, the only way to ascertain renewal status for works published before 1950 is to conduct a formal search of the US Copyright Office records in person or pay for a formal search by the copyright office itself. Later records are available online at the US copyright office website. This database indexes only records from 1978, which include the renewals for works first published in 1950. Non-music records from 1923-1977 are indexed at Project Gutenberg.

Restoration for Foreign Works published 1923-1978 Some foreign works from this period that were formerly public domain due to failure to comply with notice and renewal provisions of the US law have been restored to copyright status due to the provisions of the GATT/TRIPS amendments (effective Jan. 1, 1996) provided the work in question was not already public domain in its country of origin. Works that were public domain in their country of origin as of 1 January 1996, are not eligible for restoration of U.S. copyright.

Recordings

Copyright in recordings consists of two levels:

  1. The musical work being recorded.
  2. The sound recording itself.

The length of terms referred to below are for only the sound recording itself. If the musical work is not also public domain, the recording cannot be public domain.

EU

A recording is public domain in the EU 50 years after lawful release.

Canada

A recording copyright lasts for 50 years after the end of the calendar year when the performance was first recorded in its final form.

USA

Recordings were not covered by US Copyright law until 1972. All recordings made before that date - even those published before 1923 - are potentially under copyright until February 15, 2067. This is due to the fact that such recordings might be protected under the common-law copyright and trade statutes of states. Recordings published without the required notice between February 15, 1972 and March 1, 1989 are possibly public domain, especially those issued between 1972 and 1977. After January 1, 1978, a notice omission or error was correctable if application was made to the copyright office within 5 years of the omission or error.

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