Music & Sound Effects Rules

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LibriVox, Music and Sound

May I add incidental music or sound effects to my recordings?


LibriVox's mission is to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the Internet. Adding music or other effects makes it harder for us to achieve our objective by introducing complicated copyright issues, adding work for our MCs, and by occasionally obscuring the reading of the text.

If you would like to add music or creative effects to your recording, we encourage you to send an enhanced version separately to another host such as If you do this by cataloguing time, your MC may be able to include a link to your creative version on the Librivox catalog page, giving listeners a choice. Please note: in the first few years of Librivox we did allow occasional public-domain music or sound effects to be added, so you might hear them in some recordings.

The only exception to the no-music rule is when music is specified in the text. This most commonly occurs when a character in a play or novel breaks into song. In this case, you may sing the song yourself, using a tune that is clearly in the public domain both in the USA and in your own country. (If you prefer not to sing, check with your BC -- it may be OK to simply read the passage without singing. If it is your own solo, it is your choice whether to sing.) Certain projects such as operas and song collections obviously specify music as part of the text, so special rules apply for the music used in those projects (see below).

Music Rules for Special Projects

(such as operas or song collections)

1. The music must not make the voice recording hard to understand.

2. The source of the music must be credited.

  • At the end of your recording, say the title, creator, and source of music or sound effects included in your recording. Example: "The music included in this recording is The Fifth Regiment March by Issler's Orchestra available at"
  • If you composed/performed the music or a sound effect yourself, at the end of the recording, please say something like: "Sound effects created by [your name] and are in the public domain." (NOTE: Music and sound effects are automatically included in the public domain by way of being part of a !LibriVox recording.)
  • Provide the source information to your Meta Coordinator so that the documentation can be added to the !LibriVox project catalog page.

3. The music or sound effect must be clearly in the public domain.

Copyright issues

Please note, LibriVox follows US laws; if you live outside the US, you may also need to comply with local law. Three aspects of an audio recording can be copyrighted -- the music, any lyrics, and the actual recorded performance. The following section is NOT written by a lawyer or legal expert, but is our best interpretation of the information available. There are various possibilities for the legality of audio added to your recording:

  1. If the music and any lyrics are an original composition by yourself, and you record your own performance of the work, by including them in your recording, you are declaring them in the public domain.
  2. If the music and any lyrics were provably published in 1922 or earlier, they are considered in the public domain in the US under the same laws as printed material. If you record yourself performing the work, this can be included.
  3. If the music and any lyrics were provably published in 1922 or earlier, and the performer of the piece has explicitly placed a specific recording into the public domain, this can be included.

Even if the copyright has expired on the music and any lyrics, it seems very likely that the majority of recordings will still be in copyright. Unless declared public domain, all recordings since 1972 are copyrighted for a Very Long Time. Recordings made at any time before 1972, though they may not be protected under federal law, are nevertheless protected by state law, and, in most cases, will not enter the public domain until 2046.

LibriVox has no funds to pay for legal advice or anything else. Therefore, we will not challenge any copyright declarations, nor can we investigate the legal background of any piece. It's the responsibility of the reader/performer to prove the public domain status of a piece.

PD Music

Some sources with provable public domain recordings include:

Other Notes

PLEASE always keep a backup of your original recording, before the music / effect was added. If there is any question about the use of music or an effect, it's a horrible business to remove it.

The reader is STILL responsible for double-checking the legality of a recording before using it, and giving the evidence for it, even when taken from one of the above-mentioned sites or a similar location.

In non-US countries, the date of death of the composer, lyricist and performer are important. To give the widest possible audience the chance to listen to your recording legally, please try to make sure that all the dates of death (where relevant) were more than 70 years ago.

LibriVox will not include any recordings excerpted under Fair Use arguments.

There are lots of very cool recordings online -- however, some of them have been put online illegally, or for educational use only. Unfortunately, even the oldest recordings or most common-place sounds, need to fit the three criteria above for inclusion in a LibriVox recording.

For more information about determining copyright and public domain status please see: Copyright and Public Domain