Can I make arrangements of original music?

If you wish to arrange music which is still in copyright you may only do so with the prior permission of the copyright owner with certain limited exceptions. There are a number of reasons why it is important to respect the rights of the copyright owner and seek permission before arranging music:

  • An illegal copy or arrangement deprives the composer of the music of the chance to earn income from his/her creative work;
  • The publisher is deprived of the opportunity to recoup the investment made in the production of the original music;
  • The publisher is unable to monitor the use and popularity of a particular work.

The use of copyright music without permission is a form of theft which damages composers and publishers. It discourages composers, who will look to other ways of earning a living. It deters publishers from investing in the production of music and it denies them information about the use of music which would guide further investment decisions. A publisher may allow a work to go out of print believing that there is a lack of demand for that particular work when the opposite may in fact be true.

How do I know if a piece of music is protected by copyright?:

This question must be asked in relation to the three separate elements to be found within printed music, namely the music itself, any words and the printed edition itself. 

  • The Music: If the composer, writer, arranger or editor of the music is still alive or died within the last 70 years the music will still be in copyright.
  • The Words: If the author of the words is still alive or died within the last 70 years then the words will still be in copyright.
  • The Printed Edition: If the edition was printed within the last 25 years then the edition is still in copyright. This is so, regardless of whether either the words or the music contained within that edition are still in copyright or out of copyright.

In certain cases limited copying is allowed, for example, for the purposes of private research and study and for use in examinations other than those involving instrumental performance. The rules of copying and arranging music need to be carefully observed to avoid infringing copyright. Mindful of the complexity of this area and of the sometimes restrictive provisions in the copyright legislation as far as performers and teachers are concerned, the MPA has developed a Code of Fair Practice in agreement with composers and users of printed music. This makes certain concessions to users of music over and above the exceptions in the legislation on behalf of publisher members of the MPA.

For permission to arrange music, the MPA can help to direct you to the copyright owner. You should provide as much information about the music as possible, including the title, composer, any arranger or editor, the name of any publisher that you have for the work and the date of publication or copyright line (usually inside the front cover or at the bottom of the first page of the music).