Royalty Free Music > Public Domain Music > The Definition of Fair Use
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As has been previously discussed public domain music is a tricky concept, and there is sometimes no reliable way of determining whether certain pieces of background music or other types of music are part of the public domain or protected by copyright. Because of the age of most pieces of classical music, a person can be certain that these pieces of music, at least in their originally composed form are part of the public domain. But certain aspects of music copyright law can change the scenario significantly for many pieces of music.
Music copyright law has a reputation of being rather convoluted, but very basically centers around the idea that the owner of the copyright maintains all the rights of the protected piece of music, including the ability to reproduce, distribute, rearrange and perform the music. However, there are some exceptions to music copyright law determined by the United States Copyright Act that trump some of these rights. Certain statutes feature special exclusions that apply to works and certain digital items such as distance learning, backup software copies and even some library reproductions. The most commonly used exception to music copyright law is the Fair Use Act, which has many complexities.
The Fair Use Act is in section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976. This act stipulates that a piece of music or other copyright protected work can be used and even reproduced without limits for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research without the party using the music work for these purposes suffering legal consequences, and even if the work does not fall within the category of public domain music. The following features distinguish the Fair Use Act in relationship to a particular work of music or other creative work:
- The person using the work of music must be for non-profit or educational purposes;
- The copyrighted work must be suitable for educational use, criticism, research or other non-revenue-generating uses;
- The work must not be used in its entirety or presented in its entirety without adding any commentary or supplemental educational material;
- The use of the music work must not alter the value or accessibility of the work to others purchasing or paying royalty fees for commercial use of the work.
If a work of music is unpublished, the components of the Fair Use Act still apply.