Can we copyright a musical chord progression?

I've heard it said that musical chord progressions are not protected if someone writes a new melody over the chords.


1 Answer 1


There are lots of ways that you could analyze the question, but one of the easiest is to consider that any remotely musical chord progression has already been invented and is now in the public domain.

You could copyright your particular performance of that chord progression, but the underlying composition that you are performing would be in the public domain already.

  • 2
    Spotify alone adds about 1M new songs to their catalog. For a 4 chord progression, there only 13,000 or thereabout possible combinations (depending on how you exactly define it). Most of these sound pretty terrible, so some repetition is unavoidable
    – Hilmar
    Aug 27, 2022 at 16:15
  • @Hilmar This observation is basically a variant of the notion behind the scènes à faire doctrine en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sc%C3%A8nes_%C3%A0_faire which basically holds that creative elements which are genre conventions cannot be protected by copyright law.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:01

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