Tablet Use and Copyright

May 6, 2023, 12:24 PM · Hi

I am preparing for a recital. A couple of my pieces (Brahms G Major Sonata, Beethoven Romance in F) in the copies I purchased require page turns. Unfortunately, there isn't a natural break anywhere for me to make the turns.

So one of the options I am considering is scanning the sheet music and using a tablet with a footswitch for the page turn.

But I am not sure what the copyright implications are. The Brahms is a Wiener Urtext edition and I cannot find any guidance on copyright at all. The Beethoven was obtained from Henle Verlag and they say that the music is copyright free, but that doesn't tell me about their rights as a publisher.

Does anyone here have any knowledge of whether or not scanning onto a tablet is permitted within copyright law?

Replies (9)

May 6, 2023, 2:19 PM · Copyright law varies by country, so for someone to provide specific advice to your situation, they will need to know what country you are living/giving the recital.

The Weiner Urtext edition is copyright.

Under usa law it is not permissible to reproduce a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright holder. Reproducing includes scanning and photocopying. There are exceptions for fair use, etc.

My advice is to find an edition without the page turns. Those are common works which are in the public domain. Such editions should exist.

May 6, 2023, 3:41 PM · With the strong caveat that I am not a lawyer - I would have thought that in most countries if you have paid for paper originals it would be "fair use" to make limited copies purely for your own use. It has been acceptable for decades for musicians to photocopy the odd page to allow them to cover page turns, it seems to me scans on a tablet are similar.

However should you provide your scans to someone else who hasn't bought their own printed edition, then clearly you would exceed fair use and be liable to copyright claims.

May 6, 2023, 3:51 PM · IANAL, but in this case, I don't see why you should care. Assuming you bought the paper copies you have, scanning them into ForScore or the like, for your use, is morally legitimate. And there is no entity that is going that is going to care that you've done so; you're not going to "get into trouble" over it.

In the future, consider getting Baerenreiter urtexts digitally. Their app is excellent for violinists, with a selection of fingerings and bowings and the ability to export to PDF so you can use the music in conjunction with ForScore or the like. (Or save it off for future reference.)

Edited: May 6, 2023, 4:59 PM · The composers are certainly not going to challenge you, the compositions are no longer under copyright. No one else will know what edition you are using, anyway. I think it makes a difference if it is not a "commercial" concert. If you bought the music, you own the copies you make.

I performed that Beethoven Romance in F with orchestra 40 years ago and have yet to be haunted by Beethoven. I copied the music on to 3 sheets and used a wide stand. The versions on will do.

I'm too old to have converted to the tablet "route," but had I the option 4 decades ago, I certainly would have gone that way. I play with several people who did and they can carry as much music in the side of their violin cases as I have in a 3 x 6 foot bookcase at home, and turn the pages without removing their bows from the strings.

May 6, 2023, 5:50 PM · Thanks for all the advice. Before posting here, I had done some prior research and whilst the composers are not a problem given the passage of time, ownership of copyright is a grey area in the sense that the publisher owns the rights to their edition of the copyright-free music.

And I have also got music that I have bought from a reputable publisher that, according to the text printed on the cover, cannot even be performed without explicit permission.

Mark makes a valid point about country - I am in the UK and the recital will be here, but in both these cases the publisher is German so I don't know whose law applies.

IMSLP follows Canadian law - which may or may not be relevant see this and this.

Those IMSLP pages are responsible for part of my confusion because they gave an example: Henle published a re-engraved edition of Beethoven sonatas in 1985, with an editor who is still living.
- The work is not public domain because the editor is still living, and the new engraving is copyrighted

So it's really not enough to know when the composer died to fully determine whether a work is still in copyright. You also have to know when/if the editor died.

And whilst the fair use argument is a good one, I am also aware that amateur orchestras are in a grey area if they use music available via IMSLP for performances.

I realise I probably overthought this, but I think this whole area lacks clarity.

May 6, 2023, 6:23 PM · The pieces you are playing are available on imslp in editions that are in the public domain.

Fair use is a defense in court. A judge would determine whether or not your actual use qualifies as fair use. Being dragged into court is bad even if you win. This being said, I tend to agree with the other posters, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter any issue if you scan the music or if you photocopy an extra page so there are no page turns. Do you really think the publisher would sue?

Edited: May 6, 2023, 6:48 PM ·

There's an article on "fair use" in Wikipedia, but it's hard to tell whether this case applies. It seems like a lot of copyright has to do with duplication and distribution, especially for some sort of monetary gain. Eventually, how to handle this sort of copying legally will become common knowledge

But in the meantime, as long as my copy (paper or otherwise) of the music doesn't itself violate copyright, it wouldn't bother me to scan my copy using my scanner into my tablet for my use only. But having done so, I would be certain not to distribute my copy on my tablet in any way.

May 7, 2023, 5:28 PM · If you own the paper editions and are scanning into your tablet for personal use, I can’t imagine why anyone would care. Pretty sure that qualifies as fair use and, at least in the USA, is legal.
May 7, 2023, 8:54 PM · I agree with the others that nobody will likely care if you do this.


If you enter a competition, the organizers will likely require that your accompanist uses music that is not copied. At least, that was always the requirement when I performed in competitions as a child.

If the publisher offers a digital version of their products that is intended for use with tablets, and it's more expensive than the print version, then you could be accused of buying and scanning the print version to cheat them out of the price difference.

If you think that's absurd, just remember that here in America, we pay a fee for the privilege of submitting our tax forms to the government electronically, even though the government saves on the cost of processing the paper form and entry of the data.

If you lose your tablet then your entire library of scanned print editions could get out into the wild, and while you didn't push the data onto the internet, failing to secure your device (i.e., using encryption) could be viewed as negligent or even reckless.

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