For a more detailed description of copyright and the public domain, see: Public domain. Any questions should be directed to the forums.
'Public Domain' means a work is no longer protected by copyright and can be freely distributed.
Is This Piece Public Domain?
Last surviving composer/arranger/editor/librettist:
Died before 1972: YES
Died after 1971: NO
Note that Canada extended copyright non-retroactively to 70 years p.m.a. starting in 2023 for people who died in 1972 and later, so information found elsewhere may be out of date.
For authors who died after 1949 (Canada), a piece first published after composer's death might be copyright for 50 years from the date of first publication.
Anything by anyone:
Published before 1928: YES
Published after 1927: NO
(South Korea, Japan)
Last surviving composer/arranger/editor/librettist:
Died before 1953: YES
Died after 1952: NO
A piece first published more than 70 years after a composer's death might be under copyright for 25 years from the date of first publication.
For a work to be allowed on IMSLP, it must be in the public domain at least in Canada*. For files on the main (Canadian) server to be released for access, they must be public domain in either the US or the EU. Files which are public domain only in Canada and other 50-pma countries are available only on the special Canada only server owned by an un-related entity, Project Petrucci CA. Therefore, it is extremely important that all IMSLP contributors understand the concepts outlined here.
*Files which enter the public domain in Canada in the next year are kept on the site (blocked from access), for purposes of convenience. Also, files cannot be released on the EU server without also being released on the Canadian server.
**Files which are public domain in the US only may be made available on the US server; see this thread for details.
Copyright by Major Area
- A work is in the public domain if the last surviving author/editor/librettist died before 1972.
- Example: Any work by Sergey Prokofiev is in the public domain in Canada, since he died in 1953.
- Any work first published before 1928 is in the public domain.
- Example: Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.1 is public domain in the US, since it was published in 1912.
- Any work first published from 1928 to 1977 is subject to a 95-year term of copyright (As long as a renewal 28 years after first publication was filed on time!)
- Any work first published 1978 and later is subject to a term of life of the last surviving author plus 70 years.
European Union (also South Korea, Japan)
- A work is in the public domain if the last surviving author/editor/librettist has been dead for over 70 years.
- Example: Any work by Maurice Ravel is public domain in the EU, since he died in 1937.
- However, in France, 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 Ravel's work did not enter the public domain in France for a number of years after the copyrights expired in most Eropean countries.
- A work first published after the death of the last surviving author/editor/librettist is subject to copyright protection of at least 25 years after first publication. See details on Posthumous Publication (Editio Princeps).
China (including Hong Kong), South Africa, New Zealand
- A work is in the public domain if the last surviving author/editor/librettist has been dead for over 50 years.
- Example: Any work by Sergey Prokofiev is in the public domain in these countries, since he died in 1953.
- In Canada only, a work first published after the death of the last surviving author/editor/librettist may be copyrighted for up to 50 years after the date of first publication.
- In Canada, "Scientific" or "Urtext" editions (where the editor(s) made no significant contributions in an effort to replicate the author's intentions) receive no copyright protection due to not containing original copyrighted content. However,
- In the EU, Urtext editions get up to 30 years of copyright protection after publication. IMSLP voluntarily observes this rule for 25 years as a courtesy to publishers.
- In the US, Urtext editions may not meet the threshold of originality in order to qualify for a copyright, as only original creative contributions are copyrightable. However, many urtext editions claim a US copyright and the registrations can be presumed valid unless challenged. Still, many editions have been confirmed to be in the public domain due to failure to renew, give proper notice, etc. If you are not sure about the US copyright status of an urtext edition, please post on the forums.
Sound recording copyrights exist on top of the copyright of the work recorded. If a work of Stravinsky was recorded in 1928, the recording is still under copyright because the underlying work remains under copyright the EU, Canada and (if published after 1927), the USA.
A recording is public domain in the EU 70 years after lawful release.
- for recordings first issued November 1, 1963 and later.
As of 2015, a sound recording is public domain in Canada after the shorter of 70 years from first publication or 100 years from creation (fixation). The 100 year term would apply to recordings created but "kept in the vault" until being published at a later date. This was not retroactive, so recordings from 1964 and earlier are still free.
Recordings made before 1972 may be under copyright in the US until 15 February 2067. For more information, see here.
See also: Quick Guide to Score Submission