Copyright Issues for MIDI Files

what you need to know to stay within the rules

Copyright Issues for MIDI Files

MIDI files have 2 copyright claims attached:

  • The creator of the MIDI or MP3/audio file has a copyright claim on their creative work, and
  • The original composer of the music contained in the MIDI or MP3 file has a copyright claim, usually referred to as the embedded copyright.

On the internet there are many, many free MIDI files, and lots of them break the law.  Here are some things you should know about MIDI files and their copyright:

  1. The creator of a MIDI/MP3 file has the right to waive their right to payment if they so choose.
  2. The composer of a musical piece has the right to waive their right to payment, though if their work is published, such a waiver is unlikely.
  3. If the latest copyright claim on a musical piece is over 95 years old, the music is considered public domain (sometimes it is less the 95). In this case, payment is not required for the embedded copyright, though it may still be required to the MIDI/MP3 file creator.

Given the above considerations, if a MIDI file can be legally offered for free, then it is safe to use.  However there are many free MIDI files on the internet that:

  • Contain music where the embedded copyright requires payment, or
  • Are copies of another person’s MIDI file, where the creator is neither acknowledged nor paid, or
  • Contain music of a public domain song that has been modernized, republished and copyright reclaimed.

If you are sourcing free MIDI files, are you confident that your supplier(s) are abiding by copyright law?  To be sure, it is primarily their responsibility as online distributors to conduct themselves lawfully.  There have been cases that have found users of illegally distributed files to also be at fault.  If you source illegally distributed copyright songs you expose yourself and your church to copyright risk.

If you wish to make your own MIDI files, you can certainly do that.

However, consider the following:

  • should you wish to pass your MIDI files on to anyone else, you become a distributor. As distributor it is your responsibility to see that royalty is paid for the embedded copyright.
  • should you wish to put your MIDI files on the internet for download, you become a distributor.  As such you are responsible for ensuring royalty payments are made for anything that is downloaded. Being on the internet you will be visible to the owners of the embedded copyrights, and some of them may have more stomach for the courts than you.  Don’t do it, unless it is legal!