Copyright Expiration for music in the UK

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
David Laban
Cambridge University
Holly Bontoft
Kings College, London

You are an independent individual/small company, wishing to write software to handle music. You would like to provide sample music bundled with your software for demonstration purposes, but do not wish your company or any of your clients to be put out of business by record companies.


Copyright law is a minefield, especially for small businesses and community projects. International copyright law is even more complicated. This document only discusses copyright law as it applies to UK nationals working and distributing musical recordings within the UK. Other documents should be written which cover copyright law in other countries.


In order to be legally safe when re-distributing content with Free Software products, it is recommended to use CreativeCommons or similar content. Unfortunately, the population of musicians willing to release their works under such schemes is small, and not representative. An alternative approach is to use data that has fallen out of copyright.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 explicitly states that copyright has expired on all sound recordings that have been broadcast or distributed more than 50 years ago.

It does not appear to explicitly state what an expired copyright implies, but it is logical to assume that as long as it can be proved that no copyright exists on a recording, there are no copyright-related restrictions on it either.

Another consideration is European Copyright Law.

If distributing to the USA, US copyright law should be taken into account.


Try searching in archives like

If distributing purely within the UK, use only recordings which are older than 50 years.

If distributing within EU countries, or distributing any associated material that is not a sound recording, use only recordings of artists who have died at least 70 years ago.

If distributing to the USA [be careful: here be dragons]

Do not distribute to any country that you have not researched first.

Keep all ID3 tags intact (especially "year" and "artist"). If any essential tags are missing, do not use the file.

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