Navigating Rights: How to Tell if a Song is Copyrighted

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How to Tell if a Song is Copyrighted


Hello, I’m Tracy, and as an expert in technology and digital rights, I’ll guide you through the process of identifying whether a song is copyrighted. With online content proliferating at a rapid pace, it’s increasingly vital to respect intellectual property and understand the copyright status of music. This article is crafted with search intent and user intent in mind, aiming to provide clear and concise information without any fluff. Let’s dive in.

Understanding Copyright Basics

Before we proceed to the details, it’s important to grasp the basic concept of copyright. As a general rule of thumb, most songs produced and released commercially are copyrighted. This means they are protected by intellectual property laws, which prohibit the use of such material without permission from the copyright holder. A copyright usually lasts for the life of the creator plus an additional 70 years, although this can vary by country.

Checking Copyright Status

Published Information

Most commercial music releases include copyright information in their liner notes, disc labels, or directly within the song’s metadata. Here’s what to look for:

  • Metadata: Check the song’s properties on your digital music player. Look for sections like ‘Copyright’ or ‘Rights’.
  • Physical Copies: Consult the CD, vinyl or cassette case for a copyright notice, typically starting with the © symbol, followed by the year of release and the name of the copyright holder.

Online Searches

If the above methods don’t yield results, or if you’re dealing with digital music without physical media, proceed with an online search:

  • Performing Rights Organizations (PROs): PROs like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC maintain extensive databases of songs they represent. Searching their catalogs can provide you with copyright information.
  • YouTube Content ID: Upload a snippet of the song to YouTube and see if Content ID claims it. If it does, it likely means the song is copyrighted.
  • Google: A simple Google search with the song title followed by “copyright info” can sometimes lead to useful resources.

Using Copyrighted Music

If you find that a song is copyrighted and you wish to use it, you will need to seek permission or a license. Contact the copyright owner or a music licensing company to negotiate terms. Remember, using copyrighted music without permission can lead to legal consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if I cannot find any copyright information?

If your searches come up empty, it’s prudent to err on the side of caution and assume the song is copyrighted. Try contacting the artist or record label directly for information.

Can I use copyrighted music if I give credit?

Unfortunately, simply giving credit is not sufficient. You still need permission or a license to use the song legally.

Are cover versions of songs copyrighted?

Yes, while the new performance is your creation, the original song is still protected. You’ll need to secure a mechanical license to release a cover legally.


In conclusion, determining whether a song is copyrighted can be straightforward if you know where to look. Always check the metadata, consult PRO databases, and perform diligent online searches. Should you wish to use copyrighted music, remember to secure the appropriate permissions. As an advocate for respecting intellectual property, I urge you to take these steps seriously to avoid any legal pitfalls.