How do I get permission to arrange copyright works?

Robert Griffin

Recently there have been some articles in the media that have highlighted the importance of creating new arrangements of contemporary and popular works in order to encourage and motivate students. As we all know, when students are motivated teachers and conductors are often pleasantly surprised when they discover what their student’s capabilities are. Nothing is better than seeing a student’s face light up when they are playing a tune from their favourite artist.

However, what is often forgotten or sometimes ignored, is that regardless of whether a teacher is in a school or a private studio a licence is required to make any use of a copyright work. The good news though is that the process of obtaining permission is straight forward and has never been easier. In these days of electronic communication it is as simple as contacting the print music publishers who represents the work and applying for permission.

I can hear some of you asking why?

As I am sure you will appreciate, particularly the composers and songwriters amongst you, is that print music publishers have a contractual obligation to writers to represent their rights based on what is enshrined in the Australian Copyright Act. So in other words, it is their responsibility to ensure that writers receive a reasonable return for the use of their works via a royalty. In many cases, royalties are a writers sole source of income.

The world of copyright can be a very confusing place and many of you may well have thought that the AMCOS Schools Photocopying Scheme would cover this sort of activity in a school setting. In fact, arranging of works is specifically excluded from the license. (If you would like to explore this for yourself, please go to page 7 of the 'Guide to Music Copyright for Australian Educators')

For those of you who are unsure of what print music rights mean, it encompasses these key areas in both DIGITAL and PHYSICAL formats:

  • creating a new arrangement
  • transcribing music and/or lyrics of any arrangement of a work
  • making copies of any arrangement or published edition
  • distributing or selling any arrangement or published edition

This includes the use of the music notes only (including chords, guitar tabs etc.), the music and lyrics together or the lyrics only.

While the print music publishers completely appreciate the need to motivate students and understand that the use of contemporary and popular works is an important part of that engagement, it is also important to remember that copyright works are in fact owned by someone. The popularity of making arrangements of contemporary  works for students is not lost on print music publishers and is demonstrated by the large amount of popular material that is published and made available for instruments and voices.

So, even if it’s only for a one-off use or for a limited number of private students, permission must still be obtained from the print music publisher or in some cases from the Copyright owner. Having said that, a relatively new option is the facility on the Sheet Music Plus website ( called “ArrangeMe” which allows users to post arrangements of pre-approved copyright works, pay the appropriate fee for usage, and derive an ongoing income from subsequent sales of these works to other parties, globally. As you can imagine many people are arranging works and selling them for a commission and most importantly, the composers and writers are being paid.

Some general things to know about a print music licence:

  • Usually a print music licence allows you to create a new arrangement for a specific use. That might be your band, school orchestra, choir, community band etc as well as for teaching purposes.
  • Even though you may have permission and a licence, it may not permit you to sell, loan, hire or distribute that arrangement to another user.
  • The original copyright owner maintains all rights in the work and any arrangements created.
  • An arranger is not able to claim any ownership or a % share of an arrangement.
  • All publishers operate independently under the Australian Trade Practices Act. They set their own terms and conditions and the level of any royalty fees they may apply.

So finally, if the Sheet Music Plus ArrangeMe function does not fulfil your needs, simply find the print music publisher that represents the work you are interested in (APRA can help here at and discuss your project with them.


Apart from looking after the rights of writers and composers, they also welcome opportunities to promote the use and exposure of the works they represent.


Robert Griffin is the Copyright Coordinator at Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd. For further information, he may be contacted on 03 9585 3300 ext 138 or at