Can I use popular classical music in my game as a soundtrack? I'm concerned about copyright protection. I don't plan to make money off of my game.

Will I break some law if I do that?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/14113/… \$\endgroup\$ – thedaian Feb 7 '12 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not free but potentially inexpensive: The Audio Network Borradaile Classical catalogue, audionetwork.com/classical-music \$\endgroup\$ – M. Dudley Feb 7 '12 at 16:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the music is in the public domain and you get the sheet music as it exists in the public domain you can just copy it into some midi program without having to hire a whole band. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Feb 8 '12 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even though you obviously can't use a copyrighted performance without permission (even if the original score is out of copyright), can you find something you like public domain/creative commons on a site dedicated to them like musopen.org/about ? \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Feb 28 '12 at 12:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I don't plan to make money off of my game." This does not matter in the eyes of the law and the copyright holder; if they can and want, they're entitled to start legal procedures against you. If you're to release a game, get a lawyer before you do. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Mar 21 '15 at 18:13


In most cases... also, I am not a lawyer, find one they help.

Arrangements of, and recordings of, specific performances of classical music are both copyrighted separately. This means that even if a piece in its original form is in the public domain, the piece itself is still someone's active intellectual property.

So, when can you use classical music?

(Also, this list isn't exhaustive; get a lawyer, really.)

  • The piece needs to be in the public domain.
  • You have to have the sheet music as it exists in the public domain. This usually means originals, but sometimes people release their later arrangements to the public. It's safer to have someone that can confirm that it is the public domain arrangement and not someone's later copyrighted work.
  • You need to then perform & record the piece (yourself, or hire a band or orchestra to play the piece. Make sure you get the rights when you do this also)

Then there may be a few more things to consider. But when it comes down to it unless you are an awesome musician with a lot of time on your hands to find music that is in the clear (and have a lawyer to confirm that it is) you'd save a lot of money to just license music. If you are an awesome musician, you still save a lot of time by just licensing music.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If I understand you rightly. I can "perform & record" that music and use it in my project? \$\endgroup\$ – Pavel Feb 7 '12 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PavelRyzhov Potentially. It depends on the things listed above. But if you happen to have a public domain publication of the music then you can preform and record your own copy of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Jesse Dorsey Feb 7 '12 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PavelRyzhov: In some cases there are also royalty-free recordings of public domain works. \$\endgroup\$ – Cascabel Feb 8 '12 at 2:47

Use a program like "Musescore" and copy the sheet music from classical music into the program. As long as the creator dead for 80 years. Should be ok if you've made your own version.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning that the copyright extends for a period after the authors death. I had to research this for one of my own projects, originally under the misconception that copyright only extended for a period after creation. I've noticed other answers quote on creation, and the difference could mean the difference between getting sued or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Dec 20 '16 at 22:54

The copyright isn't on the notes of the musical work, it's on the specific recording that you will most likely run into issues with.

If you have a keyboard and play out Fur Elise and put that in your game, nobody will go after you. The musical score is in the public domain.

But, the musicians and recording company who produced a particular Beethoven recording must be paid for their production costs, as well as the fact that they sat and played the session -- as such you cannot just buy a copy of that recording and use it in your game -- you have to pay additional fees if you plan to use in something that will be further distributed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's greate! Can I use my keyboard and play modern classic music? \$\endgroup\$ – Pavel Oct 1 '12 at 5:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ You mean like "cover" a song that's not in the public domain yet? That may be possible but I'm not sure about that. \$\endgroup\$ – bobobobo Oct 1 '12 at 5:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems negligent to say "none will go after you". You can quite literally be sued for anything. You have no way of knowing that it won't happen, you simply assume its highly unlikely. I've decided its not worth a down vote, but a disclaimer is usually advisable, in case a user acts on your answer literally. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Dec 20 '16 at 22:51

Music goes under public domain automatically after 80 years unless specified by a certain agency - some themes and tunes cannot be copyrighted because of their widespread nature. The other thing about this particular law is that the recording of the music does not go into public domain for a lot longer. If you were to use a recording of music created in the 20's (and not continuously copyrighted) then that would be legal, but if the recording was from the 50's then you would be breaking the copyright law.

This is good knowledge to have because that means that you may record any performance that you put on if the music itself is in the public domain and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. If you can play a symphony that you have the music to then putting it in your game is just fine. Using the British Orchestra's 2007 recording of Bach is complete copyright infringement.

Be smart, play it safe, don't let something small hurt your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I had to look this up, before. It is not 80 years from creation. It is from the death of the author. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Dec 20 '16 at 21:04

You cannot use particular recordings of songs, but you can usually use MIDI files, because they are usually in the public domain.

A MIDI file has no audio, it just has the notes of the song. But it will play like an audio file if you have a MIDI player.

Most old games from the 90s have MIDI players built-in, so you can probably add one to your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is completely wrong. The MIDI file needed to be worked on by someone to produce the sounds. The notes had to be arranged. MIDI files are not produced out of thin air. Believe me. If you distribute your game with MIDI files you're not allowed to use, and the author notices it, and sues you in court, you will lose. That's copyright infringement. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Dec 20 '16 at 11:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the author of this answer may be under the misconception that all MIDI is free to use. This misconception can get you sued. That said, MIDI is a popular choice for musicians who release their content into the public domain. Always check the license for the specific track you have,and ensure it explicitly allows use. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Dec 20 '16 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was: is it legal to use CLASSICAL music in video games. As far as I know, most classical music scores are in the public domain, because they've been around for so long. The same cannot be said about MIDIs of new songs. \$\endgroup\$ – Elie Goldman Smith Feb 27 '17 at 8:39

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