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Copy3d.gif This page is part of the Copyright section for CPDL.
See individual pages for details and conditions.


Version 4, October 9, 2000

Copyright (C) 1998, Choral Public Domain Library. (many parts are based on GNU Public License, Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc. 59 Temple Place - Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA)


Many of the works in this archive are copyrighted under the terms of the CPDL License. Copyright licenses are generally designed to restrict your freedom to share and change musical works. By contrast, the Choral Public Domain Library (CDPL) License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and perform public domain music--to make sure that these works remain free and available for all its users. This Public Domain License applies to many of the works distributed by the Choral Public Domain Library, as well as any modern editions of public domain music which editors choose to copyright under the terms of the CPDL License. You can apply it to your editions, too.

Copyright confers many individual rights: the right to control the distribution, duplication, performance recording and/or modification of a musical work. The CPDL License is designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of music (and charge for this service if you wish), that you can freely perform or record the edition, that you can change or re-edit the edition (with certain limitations, see below); and that you know you can do these things.

To protect your rights to access, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of these editions, or if you wish to modify them.

For example, if you distribute copies of a musical work under the CPDL license, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, can freely distribute, perform and record the musical work. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.

We protect your rights with two steps: (1) copyright the edition, and (2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission to copy, distribute, perform and/or modify said edition.

The precise terms and conditions for copying, distribution, performance and modification follow.


0. This License applies to any work which contains a notice placed by the copyright holder saying it may be distributed under the terms of the Choral Public Domain Library License. The "Edition", below, refers to any such musical work, and a "work based on the Edition" means either the Edition or any derivative work under copyright law: that is to say, a work containing the Edition or a portion of it, either verbatim or with modifications and/or translated into another language. (Hereinafter, translation is included without limitation in the term "modification".) Each licensee is addressed as "you".

Activities other than copying, distribution, performance, recording, and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of using the Edition is not restricted.

1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Edition as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice, and keep intact all the notices that refer to this License.

You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy.

2. You may modify your copy or copies of the Edition or any portion of it, thus forming a work based on the Edition, and copy and distribute such modifications or work under the terms of Section 1 above, provided that you also meet all of these conditions:

a) You must cause the modified Edition to carry a notice stating that you changed the files and the date of any change.
b) You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Edition or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole under the terms of this License.
c) You must print or display an announcement including an appropriate copyright notice and a notice that users may redistribute the Edition under these conditions, and telling the user how to view a copy of this License.

These requirements apply to the modified work as a whole. If identifiable sections of that work are not derived from the Edition, and can be reasonably considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you distribute them as separate works. But when you distribute the same sections as part of a whole which is a work based on the Edition, the distribution of the whole must be on the terms of this License, whose permissions for other licensees extend to the entire whole, and thus to each and every part regardless of who wrote it.

Thus, it is not the intent of this section to claim rights or contest your rights to work written entirely by you; rather, the intent is to exercise the right to control the distribution of derivative works based on the Edition.

In addition, a compilation of other works not based on the Edition which includes the Edition (or with a work derived from the Edition) does not bring the other works under the scope of this License.

3. You may copy and distribute the Edition (or a work based on it, under Section 2) as a computer file or as a hard copy under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you accompany it with the complete copyright notice, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above.

4. You may not copy, modify, or distribute the Edition except as expressly provided under this License. Any attempt otherwise to copy, modify, or distribute the Edition is void, and will automatically terminate your rights under this License.

5. You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or distribute the Edition or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by modifying or distributing the Edition (or any work based on the Edition), you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so, and all its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying the Edition or works based on it.

6. Each time you redistribute the Edition (or any work based on the Edition), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Edition subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License.

7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of copyright infringement or for any other reason (not limited to copyright issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Edition at all. For example, if a copyright license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Edition by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Edition.

If any portion of this section is held invalid or unenforceable under any particular circumstance, the balance of the section is intended to apply and the section as a whole is intended to apply in other circumstances.

It is not the purpose of this section to induce you to infringe any copyrights or other property right claims or to contest validity of any such claims; this section has the sole purpose of protecting the integrity of the free distribution system, which is implemented by public license practices.

This section is intended to make thoroughly clear what is believed to be a consequence of the rest of this License.

8. If the distribution and/or use of the Edition is restricted in certain countries by copyright, the original copyright holder who places the Edition under this License may add an explicit geographical distribution limitation excluding those countries, so that distribution is permitted only in or among countries not thus excluded. In such case, this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License.

9. The Choral Public Domain Library may publish revised and/or new versions of the CPDL License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.

Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Edition specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Choral Public Domain Library. If the Edition does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Choral Public Domain Library.


How to apply these Terms to your new editions

If you edit a work that is in the public domain, and you want it to be of the greatest possible use to the public, the best way to achieve this is to distribute it freely so that everyone can redistribute and change it under these terms.

To do so, attach the following notices to the Edition. It is safest to attach them to the start of each source file to most effectively convey the exclusion of warranty; and each file should have at least the "copyright" line and a pointer to where the full notice is found.

Copyright © 2000 by CPDL

This edition can be fully distributed, duplicated, performed, and recorded

In the accompanying .TXT file you should put your name, revisions that have been made, and a pointer to the CPDL license.

This Choral Public Domain License does not permit incorporating your edition into proprietary editions. If your edition is part of a larger work, then the entire work must be public domain in order for the Edition to be included.


Please note that these are general suggestions, but are not intended to replace legal advice. You may wish to consult an attorney for answers specific to a particular set of circumstances.

Can modern editions of public-domain music be copyrighted?

In short, the answer is yes. However, generally there has to be significant artistic/editorial content to make an edition copyrightable. There is a spectrum of editions. On one end are editions which are not copyrightable: these include old editions with expired copyright as well as republications of public domain editions which use the original engravings. Editions which are based on public domain music and add no other editorial content probably are not copyrightable. Further along on the spectrum are editions which include editorial explanations, translations and other additions. These aspects are generally copyrightable. Further along are full-blown arrangements based on public domain works. These generally require permission from the copyright holder. The problem for the choral director is that most editions of older music fall somewhere in between being uncopyrightable and being fully copyrightable. This is further complicated by the fact that almost all music today has a copyright notice (even where there was only mechanical transcription and potentially insufficient creative contribution to create copyright). It becomes easiest to assume all edited music is copyrighted.

How can one tell if music is in the public domain?

United States


The easier part of the answer is for works published after 1976. Copyright exists in every work containing new creative material, from the moment it is put into fixed form, until the January 1, following the seventieth anniversary of the creator's death. The principal exceptions to this are certain works by the U.S. and State governments, which are (for the most part) already in the public domain.

It is more complicated to determine whether music is in the public domain or not in the U.S., if the music was prior to 1976. Through 1976, for a copyright to exist in the U.S., the work had to be published, the copyright had to be registered, and the copyrighted item had to bear a copyright in the appropriate legal form. The initial term of copyright was for a period of 28 years, and could be renewed once. The original renewal period was also for a term of twenty eight years, but the duration of the copyright renewal period was repeatedly increased in the U.S., so the total possible term of copyright in the U.S. on works published up until 1976 is now a total of 95 years, the original 28 year term, and a sixty seven year renewal. No work upon which the copyright was properly renewed will pass into the public domain until 2018. However, the U.S. copyright office reported that half of all copyrights eligible for renewal, never were renewed, and hence, those items are in the public domain. There is no substantive list of what and what is not in the public domain; upon a payment of the appropriate administrative fee, the U.S. copyright office will research an item, and report the current status of the copyright.

Generally in the U.S., once a work is in the public domain, the work in the public domain cannot be copyrighted again, although if someone produces a new edition of a work with significant new editorial content, the new edition can be copyrighted. The principal exception to this is works of certain individuals mostly from the former Soviet Union, and from Eastern Europe, whose work was in the public domain in the U.S. because they could not register the copyright in the U.S. Copyright was restored in these items.

More complete information is available at [1]; circulars 50, 55, 56, and 56a are especially pertinent to CPDL. Also of value are the U.S. Statutes and regulations governing copyright.

What are the advantages of using a license such as the CPDL Copyright License?

People have wondered, "If music can be copied, distributed, performed, and recorded, why copyright it at all?" One reason is to guarantee that it will remain freely available. If the music notation file (source code) is given away, it is very easy for someone to remove the copyright notice and claim the edition as his/her own. The terms of the CPDL license make this illegal and will hopefully help keep editions free.

What is the CPDL License based on?

The CPDL License is based on the GNU General Public LicenseLink to the English Wikipedia article, the primary license used in most free software projects. Such projects include the GNU Compiler Collection, GIMP, and many parts of the GNU/Linux operating system, along with thousands of other programs. There is an enormous amount of information on the web about free software.

Where are some more websites that deal with copyright issues?

How to contact CPDL on copyright-related issues?

CPDL inquiries & questions can be sent to copyright At sign.png