| Who owns the rights in classical music by composers such
as Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven and Vivaldi? Is it even legal for a company
to sell this music and make a profit on it? Shockwave-Sound.com owner/founder
Bjorn Lynne sheds some light on the rights in classical music and traditional
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Why are companies such as ourselves (Lynne Publishing / Shockwave-Sound.Com)
claiming copyrights in classical recordings, tracks by Mozart and the
likes? Isn't this music in the Public Domain? Why can't I just take this
music and use it in my film, or on my website, without having to pay anybody
for a right to do that?
On the face of it, it seems odd. After all, there is a law that says
music composed by a composer who has been dead for 75 years becomes Public
Domain. That's why, for example, in 2008, compositions
by George Gershwin became Public Domain -- in other words, they belong
to the people. To everyone and no one. And of course, people like Mozart,
have all been dead much longer than 75 years, so their compositions have
been in the Public Domain for a long time already.
Mozart's genius compositions -
Copyrighted or Public Domain?
But even so, take a piece of Mozart music from a CD and use it on your
YouTube video, on your website or in your film, without first buying a
license for commercial exploitation of that music -- and you risk, at
best, having YouTube strip the audio track off your video, or at worst,
having legal action taken against you by a company that claims copyright
in that recording.
The clue is in that word: The recording. For here we
come to the crux of the matter. There are in fact two
copyrights that exist in every music recording. One is the right in the
Composition, and the other is the right in the Recording.
When we are talking about classical music rights, we are talking about
the rights that exist in that recording and arrangement. The arrangement
basically means someone's "interpretation" of the composition.
If you decide to sing a Mozart piece out loud, that is your arrangement
of that composition. If you decide to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little
Star" by hitting a hammer on various oil cans tuned to different
pitches, then that is your arrangement of that composition. And basically,
if you sit down one day at a piano and you play "Für Elise"
on piano, while recording your performance on tape - then that is your
arrangement of that recording, and you own the rights in that recording.
You play it - you own it:
If it's your recording, you own the copyright.
When a record company decides to release a classical CD,
they make their own arrangement and recording of that
music. When they have done so, they own the rights to that recording.
After all, if nobody could claim any rights in classical music recordings,
why would any company be willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars
on hiring an entire orchestra, paying all the musicians in that orchestra
as well as the conductor for days, if they couldn't claim the rights in
the music and then exploit that recording commercially afterwards?
There is more to a music recording
than just the notes within it
So there you have it. Any person or company that has invested time and
money in making their own versions/recordings of classical music tracks,
even if the composition itself is in the public domain, own the rights
to that recording. That's why you can't just take classical music from
a CD and use it for anything other than personal listening. And that's
why companies such as ours can sell licenses to our classical music recordings.
You pay us for a license to use the music, just as you do with our pop/rock
music, and armed with our paid-for license, you may then proceed to use
that track commercially, with our permission. (So long as you stay within
the license terms).
The same goes for traditional music, meaning music where the composition
is so old that nobody even knows who really composed it. Examples of this
would be "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", "Silent Night",
"Itsy Bitsy Spider", "O Danny Boy" and many, many
other traditional music tracks. The Composition is not copyrighted to
anyone, but if somebody hires musicians and makes their own recording
of any of these tracks - then that person or company owns the rights in
What bothers me is that even people working in media don't seem to understand
this, or know how it works. On a couple of occasions, we've had customers
who licensed our classical music and used it in their YouTube videos.
YouTube, being ignorant, waltzed in and stripped off the soundtrack, claiming
that the music was under copyright to so-and-so record company -- because
that company had, at one time or other, registered the copyright in their
recording of that particular classical track. YouTube thought since that
company had once published a track by Mozart, that company now owned all
Mozart recordings. Which is of course not true. Luckily, we were able
to straighten out that situation, and the audio track was restored to
the video. But really, this is stuff that YouTube (and anybody working
in media broadcasting) should know about before wading in and stripping
So, to sum up: Even when a Composition is in the public domain because
the composer has been dead for more than 75 years, there is still a copyright
in the Recording. And many different companies each have rights in their
recordings. We here at Shockwave-Sound.com own the rights in our
recording of Wagner's
"Ride of the Valkyries", but we don't own the rights in
other recordings made by other people, of the same recording.
You can legally license Classical Music for use in film, video, YouTube,
website, music on-hold and other purposes, by visiting our Classical
Stock Music Library, where you can choose between hundreds of different
classical tracks by dozens of composers, famous and exotic.