Copying music – how to stay on the right side of the law

Listed on March 9, 2015 in Blogs!

I get regular emails from people asking questions about songs and copyright. I’m certainly no expert, but I have written a few articles that you might find helpful.

behind bars

I’ve also just discovered something called The Code of Fair Practice which (in the UK only) allows people in certain circumstances to get around copyright issues.

UK copyright law

I’ve written about songs and copyright before:

If a musical work is in copyright (which it will be if any of the composers, editors or authors have been dead for less than 70 years, or if the printed edition has been published in the last 25 years, whichever is the longer) then copying the work and/or arranging it are infringements of the copyright unless the person doing so has gained permission from the copyright owner to do so.

Simply put: no copies, no problem.

(You’ll see references below to reprographic copies which means any copies made by mechanical or electrical means, e.g. photocopying or scanning into a computer.)

If you do want to copy or arrange songs that are still in copyright, you’ll need to ask permission.

But there are some circumstances where you CAN make copies without the copyright holder’s permission.

exceptions to the law

There are some exceptions to the current UK copyright law (the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). This is just an outline. You can find more details here: The Code of Fair Practice.

1. Research and Private Study Fair dealing for the purpose of research or private study is permitted

2. Class/Music Room
Teachers and students are permitted to copy (by hand) in the course of instruction. A reprographic process must not be used.

3. Examinations
Nothing done for the purpose of an examination (including continuous assessment) infringes copyright, except that candidates performing a musical work in an examination may not use reprographic copies.

4. Limit Under Act
Educational establishments may make reprographic copies providing that they do not exceed 1% of any work in any one quarter of the year and providing a licence scheme is not available which covers this provision.

5. Libraries
Librarians (of prescribed libraries) may make and supply a copy of part of a musical work for the purpose of research or private study to a person who must pay for the copy.

6. Visually Impaired Persons
A single copy is permitted to be made for a visually impaired person who is in lawful possession of a publication. See for further details.

7. Licensing Schemes
Permission to copy may be obtained through a licensing scheme such as the Schools Printed Music Licence which enables school teachers to copy publications, subject to certain conditions (see There are also several licenses for the reproduction of hymns and hymn texts available from CCLI (see

the code of fair use

Copyright owners (composers and their publishers) recognise that musicians and students need reasonable access to copyright material so that their music may be widely performed and studied.

To this end they have come up with a Code of Fair Practice which allows for some further circumstances where copies can be made without being prosecuted. For the fine print check The Code of Fair Practice website.

Music which has been lost or damaged when it is too late to replace it by purchase or hire before a pre-arranged concert may be copied, without any application to the copyright owner

2. Performance difficulties
A performer who possesses a piece of music and who needs for his personal use a second copy of a page of the work for ease of performance due to a difficult page-turn, may make one copy of the relevant part for that purpose without any application to the copyright owner.

3. Study and Research
Bona fide students or teachers, whether they are in an educational establishment or not, may without application to the copyright owner make copies of short excerpts of musical works provided that they are for study only (not performance).

4. Classroom Sets
In the case of works published in classroom sets and where the publisher has expressly stated in writing extra parts are not sold individually but only in sets, copies of extra parts may be made provided that the number so made does not exceed a ‘quarter set’ in quantity.

5. Out of Print
If a work appears to be out of print, any person or organisation wishing to obtain that work should give notice of this intention to the publisher. The publisher shall then within 3 weeks inform that person or organisation of the terms on which the publisher is either able to supply it or will allow copies to be made.

6. Non-Supply
If a person or organisation has ordered music from a dealer or publisher and it has not been supplied within one month of the order date, that person or organisation must give notice to the publisher requiring them to supply within three weeks or give permission to make the necessary copies on payment of a fee.

7. Extracts from Complete Editions
If a person or organisation wishes to use a whole work which is only published as a small part of a complete or collected edition and which is not published separately, notice must be given to the publisher who may either offer to provide such separate publication on given terms or allow copies to be made on payment of a fee.

A bit long-winded I know (as are most laws), but I hope this has been of some help.

Chris Rowbury