Free Sheet Music

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In Free Sheet Music is an international movement of musicians (choir directors, conductors and musicologists), the public-domain music literature on the PC newly set or old issues whose legal protection has expired, scan and make other musicians for free.


Many consider sheet music from the public domain to be too expensive.

Music publishers usually accept the entry of the public domain not but try to maintain the existing revenue opportunities by pushing back copying public domain scores if possible. One way of circumventing the public domain is to issue reverse-bound sheet music that is only loaned out and for which the borrower is contractually bound.

The Free Sheet Music movement - like the Open Access movement of scientists - is committed to the principle of open content .

Legal situation

On the one hand, the copyright protection period must be observed (70 years after the death of the author in Germany and the EU), on the other hand, the protection period for (significantly different from previous) scientific editions, which in Germany is 25 years.

Another aspect is competition law . This will protect the performance of music publishers who create (“ stab ”) the musical score . But this right is also limited. According to the case law of the Federal Court of Justice (“Notenstichbilder” or “Peters judgment”), the graphic representation of musical notes no longer enjoys any protection at least 50 years after the engraving (BGH judgment of February 6, 1986, AZ I ZR 98/84).

The reverse conclusion, advocated by interested parties (see legal protection of characters ), that younger notes are protected, must be examined against the background of competition law.


The digitization of notes was made possible in particular by the development and distribution of music notation programs and note scanning programs for the PC. The MusicXML note exchange format has also contributed to the fact that notes can be exchanged and displayed independently of the user software.

Most of the time, however, the notes are not published in editable music notation program formats, but in the PDF standard. Often sound files in MIDI format are also included.

The use of wikis for the presentation of the sheet music PDF files is also popular.


In addition to the financial savings, Free Sheet Music also has the advantage that the digitization of the sheet music makes it easier to adapt the edition to the respective circumstances (e.g. through transposition and individual part excerpts).

Sheet Music Consortium

Not only music lovers digitize sheet music in the public domain, libraries and music libraries are also making more and more sheet music freely accessible online. 22 US universities form the Sheet Music Consortium , which enables a meta search in digitized collections using OAI-PMH (comparable to the OAIster for texts).

Web links