Print Rights  -  Refers to the duplication of the score and parts. These rights remain with the copyright holder, and are not transferred when one purchases sheet music. That means one may not make photocopies or scans of music even if the music was purchased.  This also means that one is not allowed to sell or distribute the music in print or digital form which includes posting a copy of the sheet music online for download.  One is only allowed to sell and distribute the original.  This authorization is acquired  through the copyright holder directly. 

In a nutshell

You cannot photocopy or scan music without permission.

What follows is true for music that is Permanently Out of  Print (P.O.P.) as well as music you purchased last week.  The only music that may legally be photocopied or scanned is that which is in the public domain.  New arrangements of public domain music are not in the public domain. 

  • For example the Brion & Schissel arrangement of Manhattan Beach from 1996  is not in the public domain, whereas the John Phillip Sousa original from 1893 is Public Domain.

In order to obtain permission to photocopy or scan music you need to contact the copyright holder - most often that is the publisher.  In general, the publishers have a specific way in which they want the request to be made which is usually found on their website (see below).  Some publishers have request forms while others want an email/letter or to start the process on the phone.  In order to successfully obtain permission, it is best to use the publisher's preferred method for the request.

It should be noted that seeking permission takes time, and while there are scenarios for which the publishers will grant permission, they are also within their right to say “No” so plan ahead.  General guidance is to give yourself at least 6-8 weeks to obtain the necessary permissions.

For example, for the ACB Convention Band in 2020
  • There were 6 different copyright holders who needed to be contacted.
  • It took a little over 2 months to go through the process with each copyright holder to request permission to scan and distribute parts to members ahead of the convention. 
  • Each copyright holder that granted permission had different requirements and fee structures that needed to be followed for that permission. Some of which required purchase and sending proof of purchase before written permission was granted which requires more time and communication.
  • Some pieces had to be changed from the program or were to only be available on site because permission was not granted for scanning and distribution.  
  • The set of music included currently available music and music that was out of print.

Whether you are sending a letter or filling out of form, there is some basic information you will need to include.  There are also some sample letters provided by the Music Publishers Association - 

A sample letter would need to include: 

  • Who is asking for permission both the band and a representative of the band
  • What you are seeking permission for (archiving, out of print, replacement parts, scan and distribute ahead of event, digital display (iPad) etc.)
  • The name of the piece and composer
  • How many scans/copies are needed 
  • Understanding that you will only make copies with permission and will abide by other guidelines set forth by the copyright holder.

A letter could also include:

  • A little about your group (non-profit, community based) but not more than a couple of sentences 
  • Recognition that copies need to be destroyed
  • Performance needs to happen from originals or copies with permission
  • Understanding payment may be involved for this permission or that you may need to purchase more original copies of the music

Music reading apps have become popular and usage of these also needs to follow copyright rules.  Many publishers have a subscription service with the major apps for reading music on tablets.  The publishers encourage you to subscribe to these to obtain the music as scanning and uploading violates the print rights.  In most cases scanning and uploading is also a violation of the user agreement for the app.  If a piece is not available through the subscriptions service, contact the copyright owner and see how to proceed.  The  music may be added to subscription service, they may send you a legal copy to upload, or they may have another solution.





To acquire the necessary rights, in some cases you need to go directly to the copyright owner.  If you do not know who that is and cannot determine from the music itself, check the databases at ASCAP and BMI.


copyright reference card 2

Disclaimer: The Association of Concert Bands is not a lawyer or a law firm and does not engage in the practice of law or provide legal advice or legal representation. ACB is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness. All information, services, and comments provided on the site are for informational and self-help purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice.  If you have technical questions about possible legalities of a copyright, seek legal counsel.