Quick Guide to Copyright

The retail price of a piece of music does not really reflect the value of the music! It does not reflect the amount of time devoted to the piece by the composer or the arranger. Neither does it reflect the potential lasting aesthetic value of the music.

The printed music you use comes to you in many different forms, from many different sources, countries and publishers. The piece of music you are currently studying or performing reaches you as a result of the efforts of many people. Composers, arrangers and editors obviously contribute in a unique way. The fact that you have in hand a particular piece of printed music is also the result of contributions of a group of people whose work, for the most part, goes uncredited–music retailers and music publishers.

Most printed music is obtained through a music retailer, whether a music store or a mail order company. Some music stores carry only a limited stock of printed music. Why? Because stocking printed music presents many challenges and problems. There is a vast range of printed music available, and many retailers often just do not have the physical space to carry a complete or representative selection.

Further, it is not enough just to buy and carefully store printed music. A music retailer also needs a staff who can relate to customers with knowledge and courtesy. And, of course, any company, no matter how devoted to the musical arts, must, at the end of the day, make a profit or close its doors.

A crucial question for any business is: How many customers will we have? While many publications are popular and in frequent demand, other publications sell only a few copies a year. The hard reality is that the number of people who buy printed music is a comparatively small portion of the population.

Music publishers face many of the same problems faced by music retailers, with a significant number of other major concerns. Many of these concerns are presented in this booklet. In all of this, what is most important is that the composers, the arrangers, the retailers and the publishers do what they do to bring printed music to you. So that we can serve you better, and that you are better served…please read on.

The Music Publishing Process

Composers and Arrangers

The composer or arranger submits a manuscript to a publisher. The writer may be under contract to the publisher to submit a certain number of works each year, or it may be that the manuscript is unsolicited.

Manuscript Review and Selection

Manuscripts, especially unsolicited ones, are received by the Editorial Department. This department is responsible for screening all incoming manuscripts. Each manuscript is registered and reviewed by an editor. The editor evaluates the work for its musical quality and practical feasibility. Works which meet these requirements are then passed to a Publications Committee for further review and evaluation. Those works which are not accepted for publication are returned to the composer. Before music can be reproduced and distributed, the legal rights of both the composer and the publisher must be secured. The publisher’s Legal Department performs this important task, and before a contract is drawn up, the work is reviewed in case permissions or licenses need to be obtained; for example, clearance of a text which is copyrighted. A contract is then drawn up between the composer (or arranger) and publisher for the work which has been accepted.

The Editorial and Production Process

After very careful and detailed examination, the editor contacts the composer and discusses the composition in detail.


If the composer’s hand is neat and legible, and depending on the nature of the work, consideration may be given to producing the work in a facsimile edition. Otherwise, the manuscript will be prepared for the engraving process. The engraving process offers many possibilities, from the autographer’s handcopying, to the music typewriter and various computer-assisted methods. A copy of the final proof is forwarded to the composer (or arranger) for final checking before publication.


The engraved work is now prepared for the printing process. The Production Department lays out each page, adding titles, page numbers, copyright notice, etc. The cover is prepared, and the work then goes to press.

Works Available on Rental:

Some works will not be made available for sale; rather, they will be placed in a rental library, and may be “rented” for specific periods for a set fee. The nature of the work dictates whether it will be a sales item, or available on rental. Obviously, very lengthy works, or those calling for substantially larger than usual forces, are made available on rental because it would not be economically feasible to supply scores and parts for sale, as the retail price would be prohibitive.

Copyright Registration:

Copies of the new work are then registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and other such organizations around the world. The works are also listed with the appropriate performance rights organization — BMI, ASCAP or SESAC — so that fees for future performance can be collected.

Sales and Marketing

As soon as the newly published work appears in print, a series of promotional and sales activities are automatically set into motion. Copies are usually mailed out to dealers across the country, especially to those who subscribe to a new publication program. Press releases are issued, copies are sent to magazines for review. Prominent members of the music community also receive copies. The work is added to various catalogs, advertised in music magazines, and, if appropriate, may be the subject of a separate promotional mailing piece. Where appropriate, the work will also receive additional exposure at workshops and conventions. In some cases the work will be recorded, and the recording used for various promotional purposes.

Availability of Printed Music:

Most musicians are able to buy printed music from their local music retailer, who maintains a basic inventory of standard titles. Other titles may have to be specially ordered from the publisher. You should not assume that your music retailer will have in stock and readily available the next piece that you want to perform or study. Always plan well ahead so as to ensure that your local supplier has enough time to obtain the music.

The Music Distribution Process:

The Distribution Department of any music publisher is a very busy place. This is the department that is responsible for getting printed music from the publisher to the customer. Much is involved in filling an order. Each order is processed electronically. Copies are taken from the shelves, and each order is assembled. The computer again comes into play: inventory is adjusted, royalty records are amended, invoices and packing slips are prepared. The order is then packed and put into the mail. Maintaining the correct stock levels is a constant and challenging task, especially when you consider that most medium-to-large publishers carry as many as 8,000 to 20,000 separate titles in their catalogs. That means a lot of warehouse space, a lot of computer time, and a lot of staff are needed to process the orders.

Out of Print, or Out of Stock?:

Virtually every publisher has efficient control systems to monitor stock levels. However, it just needs for one work to go on a festival or contest list, and suddenly we are out of stock. Time and time again, works are selected and put on lists, which is wonderful — but no one told the publisher! Suddenly there is increased demand for a particular title, and the publisher or distributor doesn’t know why. If the work can be reprinted locally, there isn’t too much of a problem, but there may be a delay of several weeks as the publisher rushes through a reprint.

Ordering Printed Music

Please plan ahead and order your publications early — don’t wait until the last moment. If you do, you could just miss the last copy.

When ordering music, you can help the processing of your order by providing exact information, i.e. composer, arranger, editor, title, etc. Today, order handling is highly computerized, so if you can provide an edition number or a stock number, you will even further facilitate the processing of your order.

If you are on a Selection Committee, please ensure that you check with the publisher before adding a title to your festival or state list. It is preferable to convey this important information by writing to the publisher; however, if it is necessary that you have to phone, please ensure that you reach a manager or supervisor, who will understand the significance of your information.

If you are having problems obtaining a publication or information, contact your local or preferred music supplier. If your supplier cannot solve the problem, then contact the publisher directly.

Is Printed Music Too Expensive?

In answering this question, we must avoid the danger of “comparing apples to oranges.” Can you compare the price of a popular piano method book with a third or fourth-year repertoire book? Yes, you can, but you would be “comparing apples and oranges.”

The retail price of printed music is usually based on the print cost. The basic formula is, the larger the print run, the lower the cost; the smaller the print run, the higher the cost. So a 32-page method book printed in the tens of thousands will have a very different retail price from the collection of contemporary pieces which is reprinted every third year in a print run of 500 copies.

Perhaps, this 32-page publication has been imported from Europe. We all know European automobiles are much more expensive than domestic ones. There are many good reasons why imported cars are more expensive. There is shipping across the Atlantic, custom brokerage, dockyard charges, and most recently, the exchange rate. Importing printed music from Europe is equally complex and costly.

Finally, is this 32-page publication liable to royalty? Royalty rates can range from 10% to 20%, and keep in mind that royalty rate is usually based on the retail price.

Another important reality which we need to keep in mind is the fact that a recent survey shows that the price of printed music has not kept up with inflation. Surely this explains why more publications are being put out of print. Also, do remember that the demand and market for printed music is comparatively small. Look inside some best-selling paperbacks, and you will find statements such as, “over 10 million copies sold.” There can be no comparison with such consumer demand and music publications.

Finally, printed music is more expensive because of photocopying. More and more publications are going out of print. There are fewer music publishers. Catalogues are being demolished as photocopying machines continue their destructive advances.

So please be careful in comparing the price of printed music. It can never be reduced to the simple factor that there are 32 pages.

The High Costs of Illegal Photocopying

Photocopying copyrighted music is destructive and against Federal law.

Let’s look at some of the effects of illegal photocopying:

COMPOSERS are denied rightful revenue. They earn little enough as it is from exercising their craft and talent. Surely we should encourage composers to be creative and not deter them. It is also much more difficult now for young composers to find a publisher, because publishers are losing revenues as a result of photocopying; they cannot afford to risk investing in young talent as they once did.

MUSICIANS, both professional and amateur, also suffer the consequences of the illegal reproduction of music, since photocopying increases costs and so forces up retail prices. More and more works have to be deleted from catalogues and become difficult to obtain, thus limiting and reducing the repertoire.

MUSIC RETAILERS can no longer afford to carry as much music in stock as they once did. This means that more and more of the music you want is available only on special order. Each day retailers across the country are losing a significant amount of sales because of illegal photocopying. Many are also losing business and cutting back on staff and inventory. As a result, you no longer get the prompt and efficient service you once enjoyed.

Photocopying denies publishers important sales data, and the consequences are enormous. Publishers see sales of a particular work falling, and so reprint fewer copies; smaller print runs result in higher print costs, which means that retail prices go up. The increase in the retail price often causes a further drop in sales. Eventually, the publisher has no choice but to put the work permanently out of print.

The Future Is In Your Hands. If you have not been aware of the harmful effects of illegal photocopying, now is the time to act. It is so easy just to go on making copies of music without giving much thought to the consequences. Now that you have the facts, you can help the future of the printed music industry. You can help new composers, as well as those already established, to generate new music and be properly compensated.

If you would like more information about the Copyright Law, please read the following documents:

When Can I Photocopy?

When can I photocopy? This question is asked every day by music educators nationwide. Most music educators want to respect the rights of copyright owners, but are sometimes confused as to when it is permissible to legally reproduce a copyrighted work. The following situations are based on the copyright law of 1976, and list what you can do without having secured prior permission:

  1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an imminent performance, provided they are replaced with purchased copies.
  2. For academic purposes other than performance, multiple copies of excerpts of works may be made, provided that the excerpts do not comprise a part of the whole which would constitute a performable unit such as a section, movement or aria but in no case more that 10% of the whole work. The number of copies shall not exceed one copy per pupil.
  3. Printed copies which have been purchased may be edited or simplified, provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics, if any, altered or lyrics added if none exist.
  4. A single copy of recordings of performance by students may be made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher.
  5. A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc or cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)

For more information, see The United States Copyright Law – A Practical Outline

When May I Not Photocopy?

The following are expressly prohibited:

  • Copying to avoid purchase
  • Copying music for any kind of performance, with the following emergency exception:
  • Making a copy of a lost part in an emergency, if it is replaced with a purchased part in due course
  • Copying without including copyright notice
  • Copying to create anthologies or compilations
  • Reproducing material designed to be consumable, such as workbooks, standardized tests and answer sheets
  • Charging customers beyond the actual cost involved in making copies as permitted.

For more information, see The United States Copyright Law – A Practical Outline

Copyright ultimately means that no one but the copyright owner has the right to copy without permission.

The Photocopier – Friend Or Foe?

We live at a time when “convenience” is regarded as a basic human right. We enjoy instant food and instant banking, and for some there is the reality of “instant printed music!” “I don’t have time to wait. I need such and such a piece now!” Or, the argument is that “there is no money left in my purchasing budget!” And so, the photocopier rolls – and the manufacturer of the copying machine is compensated instead of composers, arrangers and publishers! When you photocopy printed music, you pay – you cheat our composers, arrangers and editors – we need them!

So, who really pays for photocopied music? Everyone! Composers and arrangers who lose what is their rightful payment for work done! But, most important of all, instead of there being a legitimate and reasonable budget for the purchase of printed music at your church, college or school, the operational costs of the photocopier are exceptionally high!

The photocopying of printed music is unprofessional. It shows a startling disregard of progessional standards and values. How can a legitimate academic activity be based on illegal acquisition? How can a form of worship depend on blatant disregard of another’s personal property?

The sad reality of “instant printed music” is that legitimate printed music becomes more difficult to obtain, and what is available is more expensive!

The “fair use” provision of the new law is not in dispute here. What we are addressing is the inexcusable use of photocopying machines in order to avoid purchase.

Teaching by Example. A moral issue can be raised at this point. Basic moral principles tell us that it is wrong to obtain a “good” by using means that are illegal. The music educator who puts illegally copied music or texts into the hands of children is attempting to do just that.

Recognize and acknowledge our composers, arrangers and editors by buying their music!

It’s Out-Of-Print – What Do I Do Now?

When a copyrighted work goes out-of-print and becomes generally unavailable to the public, the fact that it is “out-of-print” does not imply that it may be reproduced in any manner without first receiving permission from the copyright owner. As long as the work is under copyright, permission to reproduce the work must always be obtained. For that reason, the music publishers trade associations have prepared a simple form relative to the procurement of out-of-print works. This form, when sent to the copyright owner, will expedite the inquiry and permission process. The Inquiry Form on Out-of-Print Music may be printed here.

Arrangements and Transcriptions

A frequent topic that comes to the MPA has to do with unauthorized arrangements of copyrighted works. Looking through the United States Copyright Law, we find that section 106 states: “Subject to sections 107 through 120 the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and authorize any of the following” and later subsection (2) states: “to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted works.” Section 101 defines “derivative work” as “…a work based upon one or more pre-existing works, such as a … musical arrangement…”

This means that if an arrangement is made of a copyrighted work without the authorization of the copyright owner, the arrangement would be an unauthorized derivative work and therefore an infringement of the copyright and the exclusive right of the copyright owner as defined above, (subject to the exceptions allowed in sections 107 through 120).

For example, you have just found a work which would make a great orchestration or woodwind quintet! What do you do?

The first thing to do is check if the work is in the public domain, or is protected by copyright. If this is a copyrighted work, you cannot make an arrangement without the prior permissions of the copyright owner.

If in any doubt, contact the publisher using the MPA standard form, “Permission to Arrange.” These forms will expedite your inquiry. You may print this form here.

Making a Record: Do I Have To Obtain a Mechanical License?

If a music educator wishes to record a band, choir, orchestra, or any performing group, they must keep in mind that the copyright owner alone has the right to reproduce a piece of music. This can be done by printing the music or by recording the music. Either way, the exclusive right belongs to the copyright owner.

Permission must be obtained from the copyright owner for any copyrighted works recorded. All such recordings, no matter what the purpose, are subject to the payment of a mechanical royalty. There are two important exceptions:

  1. A single copy of recordings of performances by students may be made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be obtained by the educational institution or individual teacher.
  2. A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc, or cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)

It is important to note that there may be two copyrights in a sound recording. The first copyright is in the piece of music being recorded. The second copyright is in the recording of the performance itself. Both copyright owners must give permission to make copies of that recording.

All recording, other than the two exceptions above, are subject to the payment of mechanical royalties. The fact that a recording is made and records and cassettes are sold to raise money for the band or choir, etc., is not an exception. Recordings of copyrighted works at conventions and festivals are also subject to this requirement of the law. The organizers of such events are responsible for obtaining permission and making the appropriate payment to the copyright owner.

If you do not know the publishers of a particular work or several works, one possible course of action would be to contact any of the following:

ASCAP Index Department
1 Lincoln Plaza
New York, NY 10023
BMI Index Department
320 West 57th St.
New York, NY 10019
Harry Fox Agency
40 Wall Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10005

Submitting Manuscripts To Music Publishers

Thinking of submitting your manuscript to a music publisher? There are two factors which should be addressed before you send your material:

  1. Do not sent the original manuscript without making a copy. If you have done this, phone the publisher immediately. It is always preferable to retain the original manuscript and submit a good, legible copy to the publisher.
  2. Do you intend to send your manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time? If you do, it is always courteous to let all the publishers involved know this.

Where do you go from here?

Each week publishers can receive a substantial number of manuscripts, which they register and acknowledge. This is a time-consuming responsibility, but one which publishers take very seriously.

Your manuscript is then circulated among a New Publications Review Committee, which is also very time consuming, but this ensures the review process is carried out in a thorough manner. If you submit a recording of your work, preferably on cassette, then the review process will be so much faster, since each member of the committee will be able to hear and see your work at the same time. If you do not have a recording, then the manuscript will be circulated to each person individually for reading, which obviously takes more time.

It is normal to allow three to nine months for your manuscript to be reviewed in a thorough manner.