The Library maintains a number of collections containing rare and unique materials. Often these collections contain a mix of published and unpublished material.

In order to facilitate access, copying and publishing, donors of rare and unique material are asked to complete a  rights agreement which sets out agreed conditions under which a library patron may, for example, make copies for research or study, or publish an extract in a book.  Library staff will refer first to these rights agreements when determining how you may use material in a particular collection.

The following is a summary of the most commonly requested information about copyright and rights in the Music Collection.


Often all the creators of the work, for example the composer, lyricist, artist could all be copyright owners. In addition the creator can assign the copyright to a third party - in some cases the publisher.

Performance rights

There are also rights, conditions and special licence arrangements that pertain to the public use of print music, including performing, recording, teaching or broadcasting music. Information and advice is available from the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australasian Mechanical Rights Association (APRA/AMCOS).


As a general rule, the duration of copyright protection for an item of music is determined by the copyright laws in the country of publication or creation. In Australia the following applies:

For published music

  • Copyright in an original musical work
    Since 1 January 2005, an item of published music is protected for 70 years after the death of the creator, which includes the arranger, translator, editor and lyricist where applicable, as well as the artist of any images shown on the music. Previously copyright lasted for the life of the creator plus 50 years, therefore if copyright had expired by 1 January 2005, it remains expired and the material can be used freely.
  • Copyright in a published edition
    Specific published editions of music are protected for 25 years after the date of publication. For example a specific edition of a Mozart symphony published in 1985 would be in domain until 2010 even though Mozart died over 50 years ago. You should not assume that editions with no date are not covered by copyright legislation.

For unpublished music

Music that has not been published during the lifetime of the creators is covered by copyright for the life of the creator plus 70 years. If the material is required for research purposes, it may be copied 50 years after the death of the creator. For material which does not meet this criterion, researchers must first obtain the written permission of the relevant copyright holder(s).


Music can be copied in libraries under 'fair dealing' exemptions of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research and study or for criticism and review. However, you will need to demonstrate that you have followed your obligations under the Copyright Act.

If a piece of music is out of print or not commercially available, copyright protection still applies. Therefore, before copying, it is your responsibility to:

  • check the item for its copyright status
  • check availability for purchase of item through a specialist music print retailer
  • contact the publisher or copyright owner for permission to copy, if possible. Many publishers may make a copy for you or authorise you to make a licensed copy (AMCOS Print Music section provides information to users about specific items of music).


Should you wish to publish material from the Library's Music Collection, you will need to declare your intention to the Library as custodian of the material. You will also need to obtain copyright clearance from the copyright holder(s) if the item is still in copyright. Please also provide an accompanying citation which acknowledges the National Library as custodian, and includes the name of the creator and a collection number for the item.