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The following information was obtained from usenet, on the subject of copyright and is a little dated, but still relevant.  In Canada, the licensing body is called SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in Canada)  My thanks to Richard Crowley, the poster, for researching the topic.

> Obviously current classical music is copyrighted
> but what about the old stuff?

You are on the right track. There are several kinds of rights/ licenses/ permissions involved here. The first is the copyright on the composition. You are correct that very old music has passed into the Public Domain. More recent compositions are still controlled by a copyright owner.  (Classical and popular, regardless) Note that most public domain classical sheet music is still covered by copyrights on contemporary arrangements and editions.

The second kind of license is the performance rights. Unless you have specifically paid the performers (or vendor of the recording) for performance rights, you may not use the recording for other than private personal use. For example you cannot broadcast it on your radio station
without paying for a broadcast license.

For film/video, there is yet a third license, called "synchronization". This refers to music used in the sound track of a production. If the work is copyrighted, you must have a sync license to use it legally in a production.  Many (most?) producers of wedding videos violate this part of the law regularly by including commercial music (like the bride's/groom's favorite CDs) without a sync license. Sync licenses are difficult to impossible to get unless you are doing a production with a significant budget. This is likely why so many wedding video producers violate it. However some copyright owners have successfully gone after producers who used their music without permission. You have been warned.

A fourth kind of license is called a "mechanical" license. It refers to audio recordings (audio cassettes, CDs, sound files, etc.) This is relatively easy to get almost automatically on the web, but the minimum per song is $37.50 (unless it is longer than 5 minutes). And that is just for the first 500 copies. Unfortunately, this does NOT apply to video.

And then there is yet another (new) kind of license for using music on your web pages.

> Is there anywhere (websites preferably) you can
> go to check the price of using famous pieces of
> music?

The main source of information (and the starting place for mechanical and sync licensing) is: the Harry Fox Agency at

The main US music licensing societies are:

See also the Links page at the Harry Fox web.

If you personally sequence a public domain music into MIDI, you can use the music for any purpose you wish without further licensing. However if you get a MIDI file from someone else, a performance right issue is probably in force.

Note, for example, that there are thousands of MIDI files of classical music on the Classical MIDI Archives, but the performers of most of them retain some copyright rights. See

Disclaimer: This is NOT legal advice. I am NOT a lawyer. If you have anything at all to risk you should have professional advice from an intellectual property attorney, preferably one with show-biz experience.

Remember that any legal advice you get for free from the internet is probably worth LESS than you paid for it!

Richard Crowley





Need background music for a video going onto Youtube or Facebook?  This is a good source for various styles and textures.  Free!