Contrary to common belief, there is no limit to the amount of notes that may be copied 'legally.' If your music sounds unmistakably like a section of another song and the opposing side can prove in court that copying occurred, you might find yourself owing someone a lot of money or perhaps losing ownership of your own work. This often happens with popular songs where it is not unusual for several people to write new lyrics or melodies based on the original theme before it is finally released as a single. If these subsequent artists do not seek copyright protection for their work, they could face infringement lawsuits when others play their songs during radio broadcasts or at live performances.
It is important to remember that just because something is popular does not mean that it is legally permitted to copy. When writing songs, artists should always verify that they have the proper rights to use any copyrighted material before launching into a creative process.
Many composers, however, believe that this is unjust. After all, they wrote the original piece, so why should they have to give away their ideas? And even if they did copy someone else's song, what crime has been committed? The law regarding copyright infringement varies from country to country, but generally speaking it can be summarized as follows: if you copy parts of another person's work without their permission, you are infringing their copyright.
In other words, stealing music is illegal.
Making a replica of your music does not entail physically removing something, nor does it deprive you of the original; rather, it breaches your rights to govern the use and distribution of your work, as well as any possible consideration or financial advantage to licensing your work.
However, copying material for your own personal use is legal if you are the sole consumer of the copies. If you plan to share the songs with others, then you need to get permission from the copyright holder. Permission can be obtained from an agent such as a record label or management company. It may also be possible for you to obtain permission from the copyright holder directly.
Copyright law allows people to make certain kinds of copies without infringing on other people's rights. These include private uses by one person, which cannot be shared with others (for example, listening to music at home); small-scale reproductions for reference purposes (for example, taking a written note while listening to a song in a library); and "fair use" of copyrighted materials for purposes such as criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, and research. Copyright holders may not like these exceptions, but they do exist. For example, under U.S. copyright law a teacher could listen to a piece of music and play it back in class as long as she cited the author and did not charge money for access.
Excerpts of copyrighted works may be copied as long as the excerpt does not exceed 10% of a performable unit. You can thus distribute copies of isolated portions but not complete movements. To proceed with a performance, you can create an emergency duplicate of purchased sheet music. This copy is called a "facsimile." A facsimile cannot be sold to provide income for its creator.
As well, you are permitted to make limited numbers of photocopies of a single page of music for use by yourself or others in private study sessions. No more than four such copies may be made from any one page. The FBI may require you to sign affidavits confirming that you will destroy all original copies after making your copies.
Sheet music can also be downloaded from the Internet. These files are in the same format as printed music and can be played on computer instruments capable of reading these files. They cannot, however, be printed directly from the web browser without further software installation.
The copyright law allows certain activities involving copyrighted material. One such activity is "Performing Rights Society (PRS)." This system was established under U.K. copyright law for the purpose of assigning royalty payments due to performers and songwriters who have licensed their music for use in radio broadcasts.
In the United States, PRS for Music has been adopted as an alternative method for determining royalties due musicians.