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Copyright in a Song

Within Europe, copyright in a song expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the last surviving writer dies. A song which is no longer protected by copyright is described as being Public Domain (PD).

Pub Domain

Where words and music have been written separately, it’s probable that copyright exists independently in the words and in the music. This means the words will become PD 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last surviving writer of the words dies, and the music will become PD 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last surviving music composer dies.

Once a song is PD, it may be freely adapted, arranged and translated. Where significant changes have been made to the original song, the adaptor of the PD song may claim a new copyright in that adaptation. Always check that both the words and the music of the song you wish to use are PD, and that neither the words nor the music are already an adaptation/arrangement of a PD song in for which a new copyright exists.

Copyright in Sound Recordings

Following a recent change in the law, Copyright in a sound recording now lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which it was made.

Copyright in Publications

A separate typography right exists in publications (such as hymnbooks) which in the UK lasts 25 years from the date that that edition was first published. This means you cannot photocopy any songs (including PD songs) from a songbook without the relevant permission if it was published less than 25 years ago.

Public Domain

To photocopy a song from a hymnbook, you need to check that copyright in the words, the music and the typography have all expired, or that you have permission to reproduce those parts which are still in copyright.

Copyright in a Film

The duration of copyright in a film is 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film.

Copyright in Broadcasts

Broadcasts and cable programme works are protected for 50 years.

Further information is available from the Intellectual Property Office website.