I am shooting a movie in which there is a shot of a phone ringing. The ringtone is moonlight sonata by Beethoven. Can I download the music from youtube and use it in my movie?

Will I be breaking any copyright issue because of that?

Or should I compose my own music and put it?

3 Answers 3


The music itself is copyright free (it was composed in 1801) so having the music itself is fine.

Where you have an issue is that each play of it is also copyrighted, this is due to the differences of each performance. This means that you have to be careful what performance you use. YouTube has a filter in its search for things that are creative commons, this means you can be more sure of the copyright status of the music, the full licence details of YouTube videos is in the more info section.

I am unsure of the copyright status of a digital performance (eg feed sheet music into a program and it plays the music) but most likely they get copyrighted upon first processing but subsequent processes of same data do not add to the copy protection

If you were to play it yourself or get someone to play it for you then you/they would have the copyright to that performance and therefor not have any issues with its use (assuming if you get someone else to play it you either get the copyright from them or a licence for the copyright)

I hope this helps

  • +1 for mentioning how to acquire the track. ccmixter.org/files/snowflake/29654 Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 7:17
  • 1
    If the sheet music is copyrighted, and you create a mechanical translation from sheet music to sound, then that mechanical translation adds no copyright, and the sound created has the same copyright owner as the sheet music. Which may be none. There must be some real addition, like the interpretation of the sheet music by a good piano player, in which case both the copyright holder of the sheet music and the player own copyright of the performance.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 8:53

The Moonlight Sonata itself is well out of copyright. Most countries have copyright terms equal to or less than 70 years after the author's death, 1827 in the case of Beethoven.

However, particular performances of the Moonlight Sonata may be under the copyright of the performer or even the arranger.

Also, downloading from Youtube is against their terms of service.

Overall, using the Moonlight Sonata is fine, just make sure you find a good legal source for it.


It would be quite rare to find any US recording of any kind that is not copyrighted, other than works of the US government. Copyrights of old recordings (prior to 1972) do not expire until 2067 when federal law preempts state laws. Copyrights of later recordings generally expire 95 years after publication. The "death plus 70 years" rule probably only applies to works created or published after the 1976 Act became effective and not for "works made for hire".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .