Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Open Music Archive?

The Open Music Archive aims to gather together information about and recordings of public domain music. This is music whose copyright has expired. This music can be used by anyone for any purpose.

Are all the recordings in the Open Music Archive in the public domain?

The Open Music Archive is hosted in the UK and all recordings in the archive are in the public domain in the UK. If you are accessing this site from outside the UK it may not be legal for you to download music from this site as the compositions and recordings may be bound to different copyright laws.

What is the public domain?

The public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests. This body of information and creativity is considered to be part of the common cultural and intellectual heritage of humanity, which in general anyone may use or exploit.

If an item is not in the public domain, this may be the result of a proprietary interest as represented by a copyright or patent. The extent to which members of the public may use or exploit an item in relation to which proprietary interests exist is generally limited. However, when copyright or other intellectual property restrictions expire, works will enter the public domain and may be used by anyone for any purpose.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by government for a limited time to control the use of a particular form, way or manner in which an idea or information is expressed. Copyright may subsist in a wide range of creative or artistic forms or "works" and subject matter other than works. Copyright is a type of intellectual property. Under copyright law, a music recording has two automatically assigned property rights: A musical composition has a property right and a recording has a separate and independent property right.

How long does copyright in a music recording last?

In the UK, the term of copyright in a musical composition is limited to the life of the author plus 70 years, while the term of copyright in a sound recording is limited to 50 or 70 years from the date of recording depending on the recording date. It is possible that while a musical recording's copyright has expired, the composition itself could still held in copyright by the author. Likewise, a composition maybe in the public domain but the recording itself still held under copyright law.

In the UK, copyright in a musical composition expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year of the authors death (or last remaining author's death if there is more than one author attributed to the work.) If the author of the composition is unknown, the copyright expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year of the publication of the work. For example: All compositions composed by a songwriter who died in 1942 come out of copyright on 1st January 2013.

In the UK, for sound recordings made in 1962 or early copyright currently expires 50 years after the end of the calendar year of the date of recording. For example: A sound recording made on 3rd October 1962 will enter the public domain on 1st January 2013.

UK copyright law changed in November 2013. Term of copyright in sound recordings has been extended non-retroactively from 50 to 70 years. Under this new law recordings made from 1963 onwards will remain under copyright control until at least 2034. Recordings made in 1962 or earlier remain in the public domain.

How can I find out more about UK copyright law?

Wikipedia has some very useful information about copyright law with links to the various acts and amendments: