Copyright means the exclusive legal right, given to the creator or their assigned representative, for a specific number of years, to publish, film, perform or record artistic, musical or literary material, and to authorize other individuals to do the same. That having been said, there ought to be restrictions on using copyrighted music. After all the melodious sounds in music that you hear are the result of someone's hard work and creativity. These restrictions are most effective when mandated by law and enforced effectively and they are quite well in place. So, how to legally use copyrighted music? Here are some pointers.
In general, copyright in music is valid during the lifetime of the author and for seventy years after. But, there are some exceptions, for example, fair use. This has been the mantra for many a users who have developed existing works and quite often this has resulted in better and improved versions over the originals. Fair use is defined differently in different countries but the bottom-line rule should be to take as little as possible from the original composition and to not blindly copy the critical element of any music piece. Follow this rule and fair use for making changes to existing versions of music that is legal. While on the subject of fair use, some jurisdictions have held that posting music on http://www.youtube.com/ for non-commercial usage is sharing and well within the definition of fair use. To be fair to such Web sites, they honor requests or objections for copyright violations and remove content when objected by rightful owners.
Use of copyrighted music can be done in various ways; interpretations of copyright laws depend on nature of usage. For example, if you are a listener and wish to back up music you bought legally at a music store or through an online source such as iTunes, it is possible that you can store such music on your iPod, computer and storage drive.
Treating written music is different from performed music. Written music can be performed in variations thereby bringing out a novel presentation. This will not violate existing copyright in earlier performers.
Of course, the most common way for legally using copyrighted music is to seek approval of the original owner. In most cases it will be a record company. They have different prices for the same music depending on nature of use. If you are using a portion of a famous tune such as the one from the film "Good, Bad and Ugly" as part of a parody advertisement in a limited territory, the fee could be far less when compared to using it in a full length feature film where the tune is played every time the lead actor appears on screen.
If you run a public place like a restaurant, bar, pub, saloon or any other establishment frequented by the public and where copyrighted music is played, you will be required to seek a license called the public performance license by paying a fixed sum as royalty. This sum is paid to copyright societies who in turn pass it on to the original owners.
Copyrighted music can be used legally. Be sure to follow the law when doing so.