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Posted: 07-21-12 12:56 pm
by aria1121
This is a repost of this because it is very hard to find and has became obsolete (atleast the link I referred to). Even though it is quite a lengthy post, you may consider reading it. It may also answer some of your questions about MIDI files.

About Computer music files and copyright

There is no question that copyright applies to all music files - of course it does!

Computer music files are another form of recording music -sometimes even referred to as "digital sheet music" in case of MIDI and other sequencer files."Digital Sound" files are sound recordings like CDs. Therefore they constitute a new creation or a use of music like printing sheet music, performing music, or recording on tape. Both- creation and use - are protected and regulated by national and international copyright laws. For everyone involved in creating music and/or recordings professionally - this page could end here - nothing more to say . However, many people have not recognized that copyright applies to all uses of music- including computer music recording- and also using such recordings in publications..

Most users of music files; the non-professional creators of such files more so, are somehow subconsciously aware of this fact, but since royalty collection on computer music or the Internet has not yet been organized, many computer music enthusiasts and computer musicians have payed little attention to the copyright issue. because they simply got away with it for now.

What is copyright ?

The right to make copies from an original piece of a new creation. The copyright is the exclusive right to make copies of the original - hence the name. The word duplication clearly states by its name that making one single reproduction is already copying(duplicating) and that means you need permission from the owner of the copyright.. The copyright revenues - called royalties - are shared between all participants in the venture: normally the composer, lyricist (the person who wrote the words ), and the publisher.What about the recording artist(s) who performed the song, the record company (label), and the distribution company? They should collect on another right, but that does not stop them from trying to "cut in" on as much as they can grab from the author's copyright revenues.

Most people think there is only one copyright, but there is one important thing to be understood: A recorded piece of music is actually a subject of two (2) separate, but layered copyrights.Sometimes referred to as copyright © and copyright (P)
(As you see there is no ASCII preset for (P) on the keyboard yet , it should be a circle with a P in it.)

The creation copyright of the author is most commonly understood and respected. The composer owns this right to his music.In most cases this copyright is assigned to a publisher to "sell" the song. That is what copyright contracts are about.

The other is the recording performance production copyright, which is the right of the performing recording artist(s) to their specific interpretation (production/performance) of the song/music which is recorded . However, the recording artist(s) can only use the muisc written by the composer under a copyright license ! The performing artists create the additional copyright of their performance in the recording production - on top of the composer/lyricist creation copyright. That is why those "recording rights" are called in legal terminology "Neighbouring Rights".

Most people get those two rights mixed up and often take the "stars" performance on the record ( the production right) for the copyright. Most stars did not write the songs they perform, that is what songwriters are doing! You may get a better idea by checking for yourself, how many different artists have recorded the same song. And not all productions sold the same number of records, one sold more, the other less, but the creating authors got royalties from all productions, however, this are only a few pennies per record ! The big profits go to the record selling industry.

Recently "declining" record sales have alerted record companies/(P)Production right owners and publishers /©copyright owners alike to other previously neglected ways to collect on copyright. Since all music files are also music recordings governed by the same copyright laws like any other sound recordings on tapes and CDs (computer disks), the copyright owners are legally entiteled to royalties and they want them now - no more free rides! ( As said above, record companies are today publishers too !)

For more information on copyright and related issues see The Copyright Info and Guidelines for the use of music under copyright

How does copyright affect a normal person not professionally involved in music

The same way as it does the professional -there is no exception (e.g. see your license agreements, that came with your software). If anyone is using music under copyright for any other than strictly personal use - royalties are due !
This includes especially recording in any form, broadcasting, printing, playing /performing to audiences, or including for use with other media. Creating any duplictions or providing for it (copies) constitutes distribution, even when not for profit - as soon as there is more than 1 or 2 copies for personal use (or backup).you are in violation of the copyright. (copyright lingo sounds like, because it is , software license lingo - and vice versa)

When you use recorded music you have to pay royalties to the composer/publisher collected by copyright royalty agencies and you have to pay the artist/record label for the performance production right. With buying the record you aquire both these licenses for your personal use only - on older records this license was always printed on the record label. The fine print states clearly that it is licensed only for personal use - not for broadcasting or re-publishing or public performance or any commercial venture. This applies the same to tapes and CDs - the fine print is in the booklet or on the box panel card. Using this music as a D.J, on the radio or for a movie, TV show , dance etc. generates "commercial use" copyright fees. Including music in webpages or other files or making them available to others ( per FTP or downloading) constitutes (re-)publishing /broadcasting of this music to the public! This is why one must distinguish between personal (strictly private non public use) and all other applications. See also our writing Homepage - part of my home? for more information on that tricky issue.

By definition, any other than private - non public- personal use of music recordings triggers royalty obligations, which have not yet been addressed in some instances, because it was deemed not worth to be collected, or it was considered of "insignificant" volume, or the enforcement not worth the effort. This view has changed dramatically and even governments responded by updating legislation.. The Internet "audience" is growing rapidly, outgrowing anything else ! So it is only a question of time until the royalty issue will be organized nationally and internationally . With enforcement of copyright comes the possibilty of nasty surprises. The first warnings from big music companies have already been issued to private "Computer music file archives" on the Internet and fines can be hefty.(see ads on copyright - this applies not only to software !!) So you'd better make sure you have only registered /licensed, therefore legal, music files!

As a computer user you should be familiar with license agreements. The purchase price for programs includes the license (copyright) royalties , or the registration fee for share-ware and all the other *-ware venues are practically a copyright fee. This underlines, that it most always involves some kind of a contribution to obtain the license - it is not really "free".

Why are there so many "unauthorized" music-files around ?

At first nobody would "publish" or broadcast computer music-files, because the use was very limited to sequencer users and studios. The sound equipment needed to play those files was not common - until now, when computer music use and with it sound cards that use computer music files virtually exploded via Internet and multi-media-computing. .Every new sequencer and recording program owner seems now to think of the Internet as a possible audience. But they all need to know, that even an electronically transmitted performance triggers performance royalties and the recording mechanical duplication fees! There are also renditions of music that defiy the term "music". Merely punching sheet music into a sequencer is only making "digital sheet music", it does not make it a "dynamic performance, you have to apply "conductor skills" to it before is becomes music. Or recording a personal version of a song. But even those "amateur" music recordings are a violation of copyright. Remember duplicating sheet music was the first application of copyright in history !

Many sequencer owners have recorded and collected music files without thinking of copyright. Since everyone with a sequencer or sound recording program can produce music files, the established control at duplication sources failed, much more - it became uncontrollable. When music files were in the beginning limited to personal use, this changed gradually with multi media applications coming of age. Affordable sequencer and recording software has brought even more musicians to music recording. Many of them recorded music under copyright. Computer music files have also been sold on floppy disks by artists who have taken to this medium as an art form of their own, using computer recording like any other means of music recording. Many people collected and traded such recordings like stamps not realizing, that they were and still are in violation of the copyright, when those files contain copyright protected music. Since especially MIDI and sequencer recording was for instrumental renditions only, they could not see why they violate the copyright with an "own" rendition without the "star" artist. They obviously can not see the difference between the (P)Production right and the ©copyright either.

They all should be ordered to read the paragraphs above twice.

For more info on this read Guidelines for the use of music under copyright

Are there any copyright free music-files ?

Not really - only, if the recording artists make no claim to the production/perfomance and the music used is in public domain . Public domain means the copyright has expired . This is the case for traditionals or music where the creator is dead for more than 50 (fifty) years, in most countries now even 75 (seventyfive) years. That is the now valid period of protection, unless it was published under pseudonym, then the work is protected for this period from the year of first publication. Most of the popular songs are not half this old, so you are in "hot water" using Computer music-files containing this music.

When a claim is made that the music is copyright free, it mostly means that the music used is public domain, and the production performance license is paid for with the purchase of the recording or the bundle it came with . e.g. as a demo for a software with a soundcard or similar things . As a part of that bundle the use is restricted like the program it came with ! Sometimes a music file is used as a special promotional tool - however, this music file is part of the software copyright (see above). Even if you want to give away your music recordings for free - make sure it is all your own copyright - or you have to buy it first - and that price tag could be prohibitive for normal people!

There are some computer recordings (mainly MIDI) of classical "copyright free" music in some archives, available free to everyone who wants them. The recordings were made by music "lovers" (often unpaid music student to give them a feeling what the future job is all about) and are free to obtain to spread the use of "good" classical music. The production right has been waved so this are somehow "free" music files. However even "free" software comes with a "license", which is always limiting the use to personal, sometimes to educational and cultural "applications" (?), excluding any commercial or unspecified "other" applications.

That is for an obvious reason, the same people do not want the work they do for a living to be totally eliminated either, by someone delivering it for "free". And even most other music files you can now buy via the internet are not licensed to be re-broadcasted ( e.g. to be used on a web site).You may even be allowed to copy them on a personal CD or on your harddrive or a floppy disk ( most are much too big for that) but you cannot share them !

But are there not some artists who give their creations away for free ? Perhaps, when they are desperate and have given up any hope of getting their "stuff" out otherwise . Anyway, in all cases they give it away as DEMO. They never give up the copyright to it, so you may have such files for your personal use, but you can not "re-use" them. Do not overlook , even when music demos come with software, that the software's license restriction apply to this music file too. Do not fall in that trap! Those who offer a demo file appreciate your free advertisement for them, however, who gives you something free always expects that you give something back, or pay for something else to make up for it - hence it is a DEMO for something - and you are at least required to display a logo, advertisement or a straight copyright notice that recognizes ownership or to give proper credit! ( e.g © 1997 Beaver Mills Music). Most all DEMOS have an advertising copyright notice attached , that is what they were made for !!

Only a virtual artist lives from honour and fame alone, real humans need cash to pay their bills, so be careful, if it is called "free" (or available per anonymous download ) - if it does not come from the copyright owner ( as DEMO) or / and with a stated license, it could be "stolen goods" - and a bill (copyright fine) could follow the trail to the "reckless" creator and the "unaware" user!

What about all those Computer music files "available" on the internet

Take a careful look ! For example: if you get a music-file containing "Yesterday" (Beatles) the recording "artist" most likely has not payed for and obtained a license to record this song, and by downloading and using it you are practically using "stolen" goods with all legal consequences. This applies also to music files where the creator - the recording musician - does not make any money.
If recorded without license there is no distribution - not even for free,
and you must normally provide a controlled count of your distribution. No one can give away the property of somebody else - here the composer's property. This applies even more to bad renditions of someones' music. If you pay your license fee first - you may give your recordings away, but who can afford that. To make it more clear try this example: What if someone would simply take your (valuable) car and after doing a little paint job and putting other tires on it, this person would sell it, or even give it away for free...or worse, crash it and than give away the wreck in whole or in pieces - you would be quite upset - so are the copyright owners.

Any popular song of the last fifty years is most likely still under copyright unless it is a known traditional or classical piece of music! If you are in doubt, look for an old record of it (or better sheet music!)- check the year of copyright and add at least 50 years (better 75 years ). You may have to wait still before it is public domain ! What music is public domain is not always that easy to decide, not even for seasoned musicians. A certain new version of an old tune ( maybe it is even labeled based on........) is copyright protected too, you can only use the original traditonal tune. However, this applies mostly more to the lyrics than to the melodies of such songs.

What about my own music files

For sure, you can have GIGA Bytes of music files for your own personal use if they are created by yourself . But never distribute them -not even to friends- or put them into a public access file archive - if they contain music under copyright. You may use them, of course, for your own public performances as a musician - still then royalties are due to be payed to the copyright agencies. In many cases the premisses , establishments or the event organizers have a license contract with those agencies - so you are not involved in the process- nevertheless the royalties are collected !

From this point on you should also get the idea why even a recording of your live performance cannot be given away either! Even promotional demo tapes by musicians/bands with more than 7 bars (measures) of a copyrighted music/song are practically illegal! The fees are only pennies per tape, that is why collection of these royalties is not yet enforced, but this may change too.

Without paying the fees you are legally stealing.Today, picking a candy in a store lands you in court for theft. It is practically the same with many music files and recordings. Now think of several million "candies" picked daily without paying for them from the Internet and other sources and you can calculate what creators of music are loosing in rightful revenues. (see the copyright alert for sample calculations) This is exactly what music companies and copyright agencies did; and they have a legal obligation through the contracts with the composers and artists to collect all this possible revenues world wide.

Is there a way to know that Computer music files are legal recordings like CDs or tapes ?

Not unless you buy them like the other music recordings from a traceable source, so that proper royalties can be levied. Everything else is a grey zone and copyright controlling companies are working on closing this "hole" with a vengance. What was said above applies of course to all recorded music - therefore also to all music files and all other audio files! Unless you can afford copyright lawsuits (read the appropriate ads in your magazines!) you better make sure, that you are not making yourself a target!

That is why midi-LOOPs created copyright licensed MIDI music files, to offer music files like software to registered users in the same way other computer programs are licensed. The license allows you to use these files like your personal computer applications and. explicitly permits the use on your personal website, so you can include midi-LOOPs files under this license in all your personal Webpages. You should not distribute or "broadcast" any music without proper licensing. You also must display a notice, that this licensed music is used and that this music is under copyright (not to be copied ). This is for your own protection ! You let those music pirates know, that they are breaking the law.

What about Computer music files and share ware - can they be tested ?

Music recordings have no trial period or beta releases ! If you want it - you buy , if you do not like it -- voila, and no one should argue about taste! In most cases you may be able to listen to samples or cuts, you will not get from serious suppliers a full featured file for free download, (except a specific DEMO) this is not practicable and a violation of copyright licensing too. Licensing requires controlled download and pay for use, you will encounter variations in delivery. However you will have to pay for those recordings like for any other music you buy.

Music is NOT FREE - its a product with a price - as little it may be, respect it.


This text is from here and is copyrighted by Wolfgang. E. Scherer. With his permission I was allowed to post it here. If you are more interested, please take a look at his site, he's got quite some nice and useful information there if you'd be willing to obtain or publish MIDI files. As MatSher said, you're not allowed to post or link to commercial MIDI's here. You can also see the site of your government or of an institute about copyright (if your country has one). All credits go to Wolfgang. E. Scherer for this article. Here is his site:

tl;dr Don't ask people to get you the MIDI for a song published after 1921 in public because that is considered copyright infringement. Don't download MIDIs of music you'd have to pay for like if it would be available for purchase by the original artist or contracted seller as that is considered stealing. Anything else should theoretically be fine AFAIK.

Posted: 07-21-12 5:20 pm
by Nicholas

Posted: 12-24-12 3:18 am
by Josh26Indy
Is this article suggesting that if I download a copyrighted song such as "How to Save a Life" by The Frey , that I owe them some form of Payment?

Posted: 12-25-12 9:23 am
by jimhenry
If you want to be very precise, as you should be in legal matters, we first have to ask did you download a performance, e.g. Audio file like MP3, or just the music, e.g. MIDI file? If you download only the music then only the songwriter is involved. If the performance, then the songwriter AND the performer are involved. Each would have a copyright and each would be called a copyright holder.

The site that is offering the download needs to have the permission of the involved copyright holders. If you download the song, you need to have permission from the copyright holders to have that copy.

It is up to the copyright holders as to whether they want to charge for that permission or if they want to give it at all. The usual arrangement is that they will charge the site offering the download based one the number of downloads. The download site is authorized to give the downloaded the permission to have the downloaded copy. It is then up to the download site to decide if and what they want to charge the downloader.

In music, all this is highly institutionalized and there are rights organizations like ASCAP that issue licenses, which is just the legal term for giving permission, and collect payments. Most professional composers and musicians belong to one of these organizations.

As an individual it is difficult to get the necessary permission to possess a single copy of a copyrighted work. The copyright holders want to work with people who will be selling many copies and let them worry about the individual transactions.

Bottom line is that you should acquire your music from a source that is licensed to provide the music. The source will then take care of any necessary payments to the copyright holders.

Posted: 01-08-15 8:44 pm
by rasiel
Thankfully none of this applies to classical music (or composers who died over 70 years ago). In theory you could make a claim that a particular MIDI file came from a performance that was copyrighted so that even though the music might be in the public domain its performance wasn't. In practice, it would be pretty much impossible to prove.

Posted: 01-08-15 10:09 pm
by jimhenry
The part about the songwriter doesn't apply to classical music but the part about the performer still does. About the only performances that have definitely fallen into the public domain are SOME very old piano rolls. Even the creators of MIDI files acquire copyrights on their particular versions of classical music as represented by the files they create.

If you say copyright is crazy and practically impossible to be fully in compliance with, you won't get any argument from me.

Posted: 01-09-15 12:22 pm
by rasiel
Not a lawyer myself but have extensive IP experience from a lengthy career in publishing. When it comes to the original post and as far as classical music MIDI files are concerned (especially for single instruments), while much of it is technically true the whole disclaimer is overly paranoid. To my knowledge no MIDI file has ever been the subject of an infringement warning/takedown notice, much less actual litigation. This is a legal abstraction right up there with noting how the mere act of turning on your stereo at a party is a public performance and, as such, technically illegal in most cases. The subject of copyright infringement in the digital age is so fraught with potential pitfalls that anyone in the publishing business - which by definition includes website owners and any member making forum posts - that chances are anything you do is bound to break a law somewhere at some point. So unless you're the type of person who obsessively scrutinizes EULAs before downloading game apps on your phone I wouldn't worry at all about the theoretical legalities involved with MIDI files in particular.

Bottom line: ethical issues aside, posting a MIDI file of a pop song entails some legal risk for a website operator. Posting one of a Mozart sonata is ok.

Posted: 01-09-15 2:29 pm
by jimhenry
MIDI files have been taken down at the request of songwriters. I haven't heard of one being taken down at the request of a MIDI author but I can think of one author who may have done that. Probably not so much because of the author's concern about his rights but because he didn't want to get in trouble with the songwriters.

I think copyrights are something like traffic laws. You should know what they are so that if you choose to disregard them, you at least know that you are and to what extent. There is a lot of misinformation floating around and a lot of people are violating copyrights without realizing it.

If you want to get into a really gray area, consider recently published sheet music for classical music. The music itself is clearly in the public domain. Theoretically, the recent sheet music is entitled to a copyright. But that only extends to the creative expression contained therein. Some editors of classical sheet music do put in a lot of effort to find and correct errors, add performance notes, and otherwise provide a better piece of sheet music. It seem reasonable that they get some protection for their efforts. Other editions are almost photocopies of earlier editions. While they often carry a copyright notice, I would question what rights they really have. Maybe they could enforce the copyright against someone who photocopied their edition of the sheet music. But I think they'd have trouble enforcing it against someone who made a MIDI file that faithfully followed their edition.

The big problem with copyrights is that it is hard, almost impossible, to know exactly what is and isn't protected. And none of the institutional copyright holders has any interest in changing that.

Posted: 01-09-15 4:00 pm
by rasiel
Not to belabor this issue anymore - you and I are in agreement on the major points - but I just wanted to point out that the person who originally posted this was likely a recording exec rehashing boilerplate FUD. In particular, the paragraph devoted to classical MIDI files is nothing more than scaremongering tripe and can be disregarded and the rest understood as what it is: a one-sided industry pundit's take on the issue.

Posted: 04-12-15 10:29 pm
by alchemy
rasiel wrote:Not to belabor this issue anymore - you and I are in agreement on the major points - but I just wanted to point out that the person who originally posted this was likely a recording exec rehashing boilerplate FUD. In particular, the paragraph devoted to classical MIDI files is nothing more than scaremongering tripe and can be disregarded and the rest understood as what it is: a one-sided industry pundit's take on the issue.
I have to agree. This scaremongering article looks like it was written in 1996 by a recording company's marketing department. The part about there "not really" being any copyright-free music is nuts. This site can make whatever rules it wants to regarding posting here, but keep in mind there still exist countries that haven't yet adopted the United States' insane copyright laws, so when looking for works to use with Synthesia or to adapt upon, perform, or otherwise use, this list might be useful.

In addition to public domain works here (check tag on work for specifics - some are PD in the UK, others in the US), one can find Creative Commons search tools here to find works that are free to use with attribution, adapt upon, or even use commercially (depending on the license chosen by the creator). For sheet music, look at Project Gutenberg's Sheet Music Project.

Posted: 07-30-15 8:01 pm
by Zyl
I'm bumping this because I want to add my two cents to it.

Synthesia uses MIDI files, not MP3 files, meaning most content for it will need to be transcribed from actual digital recordings. To then go and discredit the effort of making what essentially is a note chart is quite something, even if you have all the laws laid out. Communities for huge rhythm games like Osu and Stepmania have been releasing the actual MP3s along with the "note data" for years without running into major blunders. If you ask me, it all boils down to 4 basic rules:
- Do not infringe copyright of people who have a lot of money. (major labels)
- Do not infringe copyright of people who are in need of money. (struggling indie bands)
- Do not infringe copyright on recent works. (~5 years)
- If you infringe copyright, be respectful and supply information about the author and how to make a legal purchase.

What drives the humble copyright owner to fire shots often is not the simple fact that you have in some way used their work, but that you did it without respect, e.g. releasing entire albums in one .zip-file, or omitting the artist's name. In my honest opinion having all this angstiness coming right from the main website of Synthesia discourages a lot of people from making and sharing MIDIs that probably would never have caused any trouble whatsoever. It should also be noted that it is quite easy to just go and ask some producer whether they'd permit the use of their work. I can imagine a lot of them being quite lenient when you ask to "derive a MIDI". I can not imagine a composer angrily shaking his fist when he learns that people want to play his pieces.

Posted: 09-01-15 1:28 pm
by monkel
I'd like to add, that the official intro / ad for synthesia takes this matter rather lightly ... ;)

Posted: 09-02-15 6:01 pm
by Nicholas
That is an ancient video; from a less sophisticated time...

This will be fixed soon.

Posted: 09-03-15 2:12 am
by monkel
Well, right now it's the first and only video people get to see on the synthesia home page ...

Posted: 06-23-17 12:46 pm
by emzero
I honestly find all this copyright stuff on MIDIs really stupid. Before streaming era I used to download whatever album in good mp3 quality that I wanted. Now I pay Spotify but I can't find MIDIs of my favourite songs to practice and play at home? I mean, artists should want people playing their songs, it's the best tribute and advertise they could ever ask for... It's not that a MIDI file is going to be listened by people instead of the original audio recording...
Hence, I'd even pay a few bucks for a MIDI of my really favourite songs but they don't even exist (Ludovico I'm talking about you...).

One step forward, two backwards...

Posted: 06-23-17 2:58 pm
by jimhenry
emzero wrote:Hence, I'd even pay a few bucks for a MIDI of my really favourite songs but they don't even exist (Ludovico I'm talking about you...).
Sources for licensed MIDI files DO exist: But I don't know if the music composed by Ludovico Einaudi is popular enough to be included. Most licensed MIDIs are intended for use as backing tracks for singers or to fill in parts for bands.

Posted: 06-23-17 3:05 pm
by Nicholas
We've got a couple of Ludovico's in our (properly licensed) store. Although, I suspect you'd already seen those two.