IMSLP:Licensing Policy and Guidelines

IMSLP's goal is to make the world's public domain and freely-licensed music available to everyone.

We welcome works that are naturally in the public domain, as well as new editions, arrangements and compositions released for use in line with our licensing policy (explained on this page).

This page is mainly about licensing rules for original creations (editions, recordings, arrangements, compositions) made by IMSLP users. For information on public domain files, see Copyright Made Simple and Public domain.


Why copyright and licensing matters

Copyright law protects creative works by default in virtually every country around the world. Normally, all rights are reserved to the creator of a work at the time of its creation. The only way that a work can be shared on IMSLP is if the original copyrights have expired or if the copyright holder grants permission. Copyright is a complex subject, and what constitutes a copyrightable creation is not the same in every country; copyright law is complicated and explainers of various aspects can be found on other pages. We are still working on making our explainers more comprehensive and updating them for the latest changes. For some information, see Copyright Made Simple and Public domain.

In any case, submissions can include public domain content, copyrighted content or both. For example:

  • An old edition of Mozart's Don Giovanni contains only public domain content.
  • A new arrangement of selections from Don Giovanni which you create submit under an acceptable license contains both copyrighted content (your arrangement) and public domain content (Mozart's original composition).
  • A new and original composition submitted under contains only a copyrighted creative work.

Works that are in the public domain can be used by anyone for any purpose. They can be performed and copied freely and used as the basis for new works (such as your arrangement) with no restrictions. These new works can be released under a free license, but they are proprietary by default — that is, copyright law restricts their use to only that specifically authorized by the copyright holder; if the copyright holder releases the work under a free license, then this grants permission to anyone to use the copyrighted work according to the terms of the license.

Note that licenses are not "infectious." They can only protect original copyrighted material controlled by the person granting permission. For example, in the United Kingdom, a new "typographical arrangement" is protected by copyright for a term of 25 years. So if you open a scorewriting/engraving program and copy in a piece of music that is in the public domain (such as a composition by Mozart), you would gain a 25-year copyright on your "typographical arrangement" in the UK, and your permission would be needed for users in the UK to copy your score. However, your copyright would not extend to the creative work of Mozart contained within your score, and anyone who owned a copy of your score could perform from it without needing your permission (since the performance would be of Mozart's work, not yours). What elements are actually protectable within editions may vary from country to country, but the copyright status of an edition cannot affect the public domain status of the underlying work itself. For this reason, a performance made from a copyrightable edition of a public domain work is not subject to the copyright of the edition as long as the performance is of the public domain work.

Licensing policy

While IMSLP contains both public domain and licensed content, public domain works are the bedrock of our collection. We continue to accept public domain works according to the relevant copyright laws, as we always have. For licensed works, we are now aligning ourselves with the definitions of free content used by other major repositories (such as Wikimedia Commons) and the Definition of Free Cultural Works. Not all content on IMSLP meets this definition, but we are making some changes in order to make sure that works on IMSLP align more with these other sites. This will enable, to give one example, the incorporation of more licensed content on IMSLP into Wikipedia articles.

Note that all licenses and public domain dedications are considered irrevocable. As a matter of site policy, files will not be removed once submitted, so long as the original submission was done in line with the permission of relevant copyright holders. IMSLP will respect a change from a more restrictive license (such as CC BY-SA) to a more liberal one (such as CC BY or CC Zero), but restrictions may not be added after an upload has been made. Note also that any file created by an IMSLP user and uploaded as "Public Domain" is considered dedicated to the public domain by the user.

What is allowed

  • Any work that is in the public domain in Canada can be uploaded through the main IMSLP servers (located in Canada). These are normally works by people who died in 1971 or earlier.
    • Additionally, any work that is not in the public domain in Canada, but which is in the public domain in the United States, can be uploaded to the separate PML-US servers, using a special form. These works are not stored on the main IMSLP server, but IMSLP-US entries are indexed on IMSLP work pages. These are generally works which were published in 1928 or earlier.
    • For works that are in the public domain in Canada, recordings can be accepted, so long as the recordings are in the public domain in Canada (i.e., published in 1964 or earlier), or released under a free license. For works that are in the public domain in the US but not in Canada, recordings can only be accepted if published in 1923 or earlier or released under a free license.
    • Note that scanning or transferring an existing edition or recording does not create a new copyright (as Canadian law does not allow for new copyright in mechanical/procedural/literal copying). While these scans/transfers are sometimes listed as copyrighted and/or available only under a non-free license), they should be marked as public domain, as long as the actual work that has been scanned/transferred is actually in the public domain.
  • Any work released under a free license by the author(s) can be accepted. We prefer use of the recommended Creative Commons licenses (see below) in order to maintain consistency, but all licenses which meet the Definition of Free Cultural Works may be allowed (especially for legacy content imported from other sites).
  • Submissions of original compositions may be made available under a "Performance Restricted" license, but only if the composer is a member of a performing-rights organization (such as ASCAP or BMI), and presents proof to an administrator. An explanation of purpose of the "Performance Restricted" license will be given below.
  • Submissions under the deprecated-by-IMSLP non-free Creative Commons "Non-Commercial" licenses are being phased out. Submissions under the non-free Creative Commons "Non-Commercial" "No-Derivatives" licenses will only be allowed for editions of public domain works with specific approval administrator approval in special circumstances.

What is not allowed

  • Uploading someone else's copyrighted work without permission. Permissions from living people, or the heirs to people whose works are still under copyright, can be sent via email to Permission in this form should mention under which license the work is being released.
  • Any artificially restricted "sample" meant to advertise a "complete" version only made available elsewhere. For example, you are NOT allowed to post only an excerpt of a larger work in order to advertise the full work for sale. "Demos", "Excerpts", etc. are also not allowed because these are considered "incomplete" files.
    • Note, however, that portions of larger pieces are allowed, if they are not just taken from a larger commercial-only file. For example, a recording or typeset of a single movement of a larger piece can be accepted, as long as it is not artificially taken from a complete recording/edition made available for sale elsewhere.
  • Adding visible watermarks to files, even if the files remain under an open license. You cannot mark your files as "samples" or artificially prevent their usability.
    • Note: watermarks on scans of public-domain files should be removed as far as possible (or placed on a blank section of the page(s) with no text/image/music content being covered from the watermark or being touched by the watermark). Library scan-information pages should be excluded from uploads of scans as well, if possible, as should claims of copyright on scans or transfers in themselves, though linking back to the original source for public domain files is encouraged where possible.
  • Any work under license that prohibits public distribution, derivative works or performance (except with specific admin approval OR authorized as part of the performance-restricted file program).

Recommended licenses for original works (with explanations)

Recommended licenses, simplified

CC Zero
(Public Domain Dedication)


No restrictions
(dedicated to the public domain)


CC BY.png

Must include attribution

(Attribution-Share Alike)

CC BY-SA.png

Must include attribution
Must share alike

(always stays free to share and use)

Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain Dedication) [full text]


This option releases your work into the public domain. Users can use it for any purpose, just like any public domain work.

Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) [full text]

CC BY.png

This option allows users to share and perform your copyrighted work and make derivative works (e.g., recordings of a new composition or arrangement),

so long as

  • You are correctly credited for your original work (with an indication if elements besides your work are included), with acknowledgment of/a link to the license.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (CC BY-SA) [full text]

CC BY-SA.png

This option allows users to share and perform your copyrighted work and make derivative works (e.g., recordings of a new composition or arrangement),

so long as

  • You are correctly credited for your original work (with an indication if elements besides your work are included), with acknowledgment of/a link to the license.


  • The work (and any derivative work) remains freely shareable under the CC BY-SA license.

This is a copyleft license: it requires that your copyrighted work only be used as the basis for other freely-shareable content. While a fee may be charged (though this is uncommon in practice) for a physical copy of the work or a derivative work, the copies must not be restricted and must be marked as explicitly shareable, including for free, under CC BY-SA.

Performance-Restricted Licenses

As a special exception, IMSLP is also able to host works under the "Performance-Restricted" licenses. These licenses allow redistribution of the sheet music, but prohibit public performance without permission. These licenses can only be used for original compositions. Furthermore, they can only be used by composers who are verified members of a performing rights organization (PRO) — such as ASCAP or BMI in the US, SOCAN in Canada and so on.

PR-licensed files are not free for any purpose, and should considered separate from the main collection and goals of IMSLP. Since many groups (schools, orchestras, etc.) have blanket licenses to use works whose performance rights are administered by PROs, this service is meant to facilitate composers who belong to those PROs in making the sheet music available digitally directly to these end-users. Any composer who wishes to do this now MUST send proof of membership in a PRO over email to in order for these submissions to be accepted.

Changes and clarifications

The main rule changes are as follows:

  • Creative Commons "No Derivatives" licenses will no longer be allowed for new submissions.
  • Creative Commons "Non-Commercial" licenses are deprecated and their use is strongly discouraged. The Creative Commons Share-Alike license is recommended instead; an explanation of why is given below.
  • Use of a "Performance Restricted" license will only be allowed with proof of membership in an eligible performing rights organization.

Note that these policies do not apply to items submitted before these changes were announced.

Why the "No Derivatives" licenses are not allowed

When a work is released under a "No Derivatives" license, nobody except the copyright holder can modify it or use it to creative a derivative work (such as a recording) without permission. As a result, these files are essentially unusable for most purposes. Users cannot produce a recording of new works licensed under these terms and submit to IMSLP (although this has happened — this user confusion is a reason why we are disallowing this license). IMSLP's goal is to be a library of free content, but it takes time and resources for us to accept new contributions. We want files to be free for users to actually use. Furthermore, we don't want there to be confusion for users on a website whose main goal is to spread public-domain works. Therefore, files released under a CC-ND license will no longer be allowed.

As a special and rare exception, the administrators may in some cases accept certain editions of public domain works released under a "No Derivatives" license on another site. However, this must not be used by IMSLP users in order to get around this restriction and only may be applied at the discretion of administrators.

Furthermore, scans of public domain editions and transfers of public domain recordings, which are not in fact subject to new copyrights just by being transferred to digital form, may be accepted, even if their source claims that they are CC-ND; however, these should be submitted as "Public domain" due to the license for the actual content being invalid to begin with.

Why the "Non-Commercial" licenses have been deprecated

The Wikimedia Foundation does not accept CC-NC files on their projects, and the Definition of Free Cultural Works considers works released under the CC-NC licenses to be non-free. There are significant issues with the ambiguity of the CC-NC licenses, as acknowledged by Creative Commons.

For submitters who want to keep their work free, we recommend the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license instead. This license is less ambiguous and nearly universally accepted on free-content sites. The basic difference between the licenses is this: the CC-BY-SA license allows someone else to sell a copy of your work, however, any copy must be marked as freely shareable under the CC-BY-SA license. In other words, the work always remains marked as shareable and anyone who sells cannot restrict other people from making copies for free. In practical terms, CC-BY-SA works are not generally sold for profit, because doing so usually entails the seller using copyright to maintain exclusivity on the document. However, for example, selling physical copies of a work for use in schools (especially in areas with poor internet access) might be disallowed under the NC licenses, but is explicitly allowed under CC-BY-SA. The CC-BY-SA license requires that the copyrighted work remain free to be copied, including for free, even if a copy is sold.

Furthermore, IMSLP remains dedicated to serving copies of all Creative Commons-licensed files to anyone, for free. Even if a copy is sold (with a notice that it can be freely copied further), users should always be able to download a copy for free from IMSLP.

Accordingly, the CC-NC licenses are now considered deprecated on IMSLP, and will show up only as a special item on the license selector. CC-NC files can be imported from external sources, but they are strongly discouraged for new submissions made by IMSLP users.

Miscellaneous points

In order to deal with some of the minutiae of copyright policy on IMSLP, we are also making some minor changes which apply to user-created content.

  • Users are allowed (but not required) to dedicate their own work to the public domain. We have a preference for the Creative Commons Zero public domain dedication over other forms of public domain dedication, due to its more explicit wording. Users have been able to choose CC-Zero for years, but due to some confusion, not all users understand that this is just another form of public domain dedication, and so many choose "Public Domain (dedicated)" (which is intended mainly for PD-dedicated content from other sites that don't use CC-Zero) or "Public Domain" (which is intended for works whose copyrights have expired). Now, if you submit your own work under the "Public Domain" or "Public Domain (dedicated)" options, it will be considered dedicated specifically using the Creative Commons Zero public domain dedication.
  • In some countries, the first publication of a first edition of a public domain work can give special rights to the publisher of the first edition. This does not apply in the United States or Canada. Since we want to share public domain works, by uploading, you now agree that the license applied to any submission of a work which has naturally entered the public domain due to its normal expiration (e.g., 70 years after the author's death in the EU) applies only to the edition, and any potential editio princeps exclusivity rights to the original work itself are waived under CC-Zero. In the rare case where a historical work is first published by an IMSLP user (according to EU editio princeps principles), this means that the underlying public domain work would be confirmed as public domain in the EU, even if the edition itself could be released as CC-BY.