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Explaining aspects of copyright to be aware of when studying, lecturing or undertaking research. Please note that information on these pages is for guidance only: it does not constitute formal legal advice.

How long does copyight last?

Because sound recordings may comprise various elements, there are at least three types of copyright which may apply:

  1. Music - Copyright for a musical work expires after 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the composer died
  2. Words - For spoken word recordings or where a piece of recorded music has accompanying lyrics or text, this text is copyrighted until after 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author died
  3. Recording - Copyright for a recording expires after 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was released.


A corded hand-held microphone laid on a surface

What copying is allowed?

UK legislation has some allowances for the copying and use of sound recordings, for example:

  1. It is permissible to copy all or a substantial part of a recording for the purpose of criticism or review, providing that due acknowledgement is given.
  2. It is permissible to use copies made from recordings for the sole purpose of illustration for instruction. It must be non-commercial use and the copy made by a person giving or receiving the instruction; and it must be made available only through a secure electronic network.
  3. It is permissible to use copies made from recordings as part of an examination or as part of other work submitted for the purpose of examination. Such copies should be destroyed once the examination has taken place. This allowance does not extend to the making of a reprographic copy of a musical work for use by an examination candidate in performing the work.

Further copying

In order to be allowed to copy recordings that are still in copyright, you must:

  1. have explicit permission from the rights holders, or
  2. hold a licence to copy the material, or
  3. be permitted to do so by legislation, as in the examples above.

It is normally necessary to seek permissions in order to be allowed to use commercially-produced recorded music. Permission has to be sought from three parties: composer, music publisher and record company. Consequently, obtaining the necessary licences can be a bureaucratic and expensive process.

The following organisations can offer some help:

  • PRS for Music is the main collecting society acting on behalf of music publishers and composers. It encompasses the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society), which collect and distribute royalties for different usages of music. More information can be found on the PRS for Music website (‘What we do’).
  • PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) deals with sound recording rights on behalf of record labels

Resources for digital recordings

City has subscriptions to the following resources:

  • British Library Sounds Collection - covers the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds
  • Media Plus is a collection of film, video and sound material. Includes access to British Paramount News, Channel 4 and 5 News, Gaumont British News and Graphic Newsreel, Programmes as Broadcast (PAB), Reporting 66-67, Reuters News, Roving Report and Visnews as well as a range of ITN material including: Clip Reel, Collections, News, Non-released, Open-ender, Reports and Rushes. To access this resource use your City username and password.
  • Naxos Music Library - the world's largest Classical music listening service, it also includes Jazz, World and Folk music, Chinese music and a limited contemporary collection.

Credit for image on this page

'microphone' by SparkCBC (CC BY-SA 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015