Is it legal to charge for the service of transcribing music for a customer? For example, if someone requests that I transcribe a copyrighted song for them, is it legal for me to do this and charge a fee for my transcription service and not the transcription itself? I've heard that charging for the service of transcribing is legal sand that selling transcriptions is not. What is true regarding the legality of charging for the service of transcribing a piece of music for a customer? In total I would like to know if I can legally charge for the service of transcribing any song a customer requests, regardless of its copyright status (public domain or not), which the transcription they will then use for personal reasons.

Second, I would like to know how I can share/sell sheet music transcriptions legally. Because selling music transcriptions on, say, a personal website is illegal due to commercial reasons and what-not, people say that you can get around this by sharing your transcriptions with Patreon members, since you won't be selling a transcription and therefore put it under educational purposes to be protected under fair use. If this Patreon thing is legit, legal, and possible, I would go this route for sharing transcriptions and would love any more detailed insight you could tell me about this. However, if the Patreon thing is not legal, what steps can I take to find the copyright owners of a piece of music, and reach an agreement with them for which I could sell sheet music?

For example, I transcribe jazz arrangements of songs that are mostly already copyrighted. Does this mean that the arranger of the copyrighted song has to pay a royalty/license to publish their recorded cover of the song? What does this imply for me? For example, would I have to contact the owner of the rights to the recording and the owner of the original song to reach an agreement to sell my transcriptions?

Overall, I have three questions that I'd like to be answered, which are: 1. Is it legal to charge for the service of transcribing music (copyrighted or public domain) for a customer, and not the transcription itself? 2. Can I share my transcriptions and put them under educational purposes for fair use protection through using Patreon, since people aren't paying for a transcription? 3. What are the steps I can take to first, find the copyright owners to a song and the recording of it's cover by an artist, and then contact them? I would appreciate all the help I can get, especially with question one.

1 Answer 1


Music transcription is the creation of a derivative work, so then you say that the song is copyrighted, that would mean it is protected by copyright law, and only the owner of the copyright can authorize creation of a derivative work. Whether or not you sell or give away the copies does not make any difference. Copyright infringement for your personal use is also not legal in the US, though tends not to result in lawsuits. Of course if the customer is the owner of the copyright, they can authorize you to do this for them.

Supposing that you have legal copies of sheet music transcriptions, you can sell them however you want. By which I mean, you legally acquire say 10 physical copies at a clearance sale, then you can sell them without restriction. If you purchased a license to make up to 10 copies, you did not purchase 10 copies, so the license would spell out any restrictions on the disposition of those licensed copies.

Selling illegally-copied material on Patreon does not make it educational, and calling something educational does not immunize you from an infringement lawsuit. Nothing that you have said suggests that creating such a derivative work is "fair use", which is where being educational has relevance.

There are commercial services that facilitate getting permission.

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