Copyright guide

A guide to help you understand UK copyright laws for music, books, journals and sound recordings and how they apply to you.

Copyright information

What is copyright?

Copyright is the law which enables composers and authors to be paid for their work. It is the means by which those who make and own creative works, such as music, can control who makes use of it.

It is illegal to copy (by hand, scanning or photocopying) any copyrighted material without the express permission of the copyright holder.

How can I tell if something is in copyright?

A work, be it a piece of music, a book or a journal is in copyright if:

  • The composer, editor or arranger or any other contributor is still alive or died within the last 70 years. Copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the person died, for example: Elgar died on 23 February 1934, therefore copyright expired on 31 December 2004.
  • The edition was printed in the last 25 years, regardless of whether the words, music or editorial input are in or out of copyright.

If the item you which to copy comes within any of these categories it may not be copied.

Exceptions to the rule for music

Copying is permitted under the following exceptions:

Page turns
For ease of performance due to a difficult page-turn one copy of the relevant section may be made.

Study and research
Students or teachers may make copies of short excerpts of musical works provided that they are for study only (not performance). Copying whole movements, works or instrumental parts is not allowed.

Out-of-print, non-supply of item, extracts from complete editions
Permission must be sought from the copyright holder.

Copies for exam/audition panels
If you or the Library own a copy of a piece published by a member of the Music Publishers Association, you may legally make one copy per examiner, providing that the copies are retained and destroyed by the examiners immediately after the recital. These copies should be marked with the following ‘Examiner copy. Destroy after use’.
Please see the lists on the MPA website for details of included publishers.

Arrangements of copyright works
The arrangement or transcription of a work involving no more than a change of key or register is permitted. Arrangements of copyright works may be made in the course of instruction within an educational establishment, provided that they are not used in any public performance and/or outside the educational establishment.

Any arrangements made for performance purposes must have the permission of the copyright holder.

Exceptions to the rule for books and journals

It is permissible to copy extracts from books and journals under the “fair dealing” terms of the Copyright Act, the guidelines for this are:

  • One chapter or up to 5% (whichever is greater) of a book or similar publication
  • Once article or up to 5% (whichever is greater) from any one issue of a journal

Electronic resources

Under the terms of our licensing agreements RNCM students and staff:

  • May print or download a copy of an e-journal article for personal use (research, teaching, private study)
  • May print extracts from an e-book up to the permitted amount allowed under Copyright
  • Must not make multiple print or electronic copies of e-journal articles or e-books

Sound recordings

All sound recordings, including CDs, DVDs and LPs are currently protected under copyright for 70 years from the end of the year in which the recording was made. If you wish to make a copy of a copyrighted sound recording then you must seek the permission of the copyright holder.

College regulations with regards to illegal copies

The copying of copyright material is illegal and the College will treat any infringement of this policy very seriously. Any such infringement will result in disqualification from an examination, audition, competition as appropriate.

Further information:

Music Publishers Association and Code of Fair Practice

Copyright Licensing Agency


If you have any further queries about copyright please do not hesitate to ask a member of Library staff.


Library guides
Borrowing from the Library
Electronic resources
Items not in stock
Photocopying and printing 
References and Bibliography
Renewing your loans
Using other Libraries
Last modified: Wednesday, 13 March 2019, 12:28 PM