If not, are there any other good options for me to effectively allow use by everyone for almost any reason? I'd prefer to take a hands-off approach as opposed to attempting to place anything in the public domain, which seems to be quite painful and controversial.

  • 1
    What's painful and controversial about public domain? Surely that's the easiest solution of all, since anyone can do anything with the music and neither you nor anyone else has to supervise usage.
    – Graham
    Oct 25, 2021 at 20:14
  • 8
    @Graham, perhaps the fact that many jurisdictions don't seem to permit doing so - CC0 seeks to do something equivalent, but it deals explicitly with that problem. Oct 25, 2021 at 21:51
  • @TobySpeight That's not really true though. Some places may not actively let you relinquish rights, sure. But those are rights, not responsibilities. There is nowhere where you have to do anything as a creator. Someone using this work could have issues, of course, if you did a bait-and-switch on them. Then they'd have to follow whatever local rules for showing you intended it to be placed in the public domain, and that's the purpose of CC0. But you yourself - not at all, anywhere, ever.
    – Graham
    Oct 26, 2021 at 8:44
  • Yes, agreed - just speculating on the claim "seems to be painful", which is probably misunderstanding by OP rather than something that's factually true. Oct 26, 2021 at 9:12

4 Answers 4


Can it be applied? Yes. But it would seem unhelpful to make anybody using the music to repeat the contents of the MIT license which makes multiple references to "Software"; that is at best going to confuse anybody receiving the work.

Fortunately, there are licenses designed for more general creative works; the best known of these are the Creative Commons licenses. You likely want either the Creative Commons Attribution license (commonly known as CC-BY) if you want to keep the MIT-like behaviour of requiring attribution, or potentially the Creation Commons Public Domain Dedication (slightly less commonly known as CC0) if you're not concerned about receiving attribution.

  • 1
    CC-BY has DRM restrictions, Op might want to relax them if they want to be as close to MIT as possible. Oct 26, 2021 at 3:51
  • 2
    @CemKalyoncu: Meh, nobody puts DRM on music these days anyway. Also, CC-BY only imposes DRM restrictions on the original, not on "Adapted Material" (derivative works).
    – Kevin
    Oct 26, 2021 at 7:22
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    I just wanted to point it out, a difference is a difference and most people has no idea about the DRM clause on CC-By. Oct 27, 2021 at 8:06
  • What does "DRM restrictions" mean in this context (a license)? Oct 27, 2021 at 16:30
  • @R..GitHubSTOPHELPINGICE Defined in Section 1(d) of the license ("Effective Technological Measures") Oct 27, 2021 at 16:32

You certainly could use the MIT license for a piece of music, but it's probably not a good idea. Software licenses are very different than licenses for so-called "cultural works" (things like art, music, or literature). In the early days of free software, these differences caused problems for several software projects who used licenses that were designed for cultural works and did not provide the same freedoms/protections when applied to software. I'm not aware of any specific cases the other way around, but you'd be much better off selecting a license that was designed specifically for cultural works.

The MIT license includes a long section that talks about how the software has no warranty, etc. That entire paragraph doesn't really mean anything in the context of a piece of music and would simply be confusing. It's also a significant portion of the license text. If you removed that paragraph you could also remove the clause that requires the disclaimer to be reproduced in any copies of the work. By the time you removed all the irrelevant content, you'd end up with a very different license.

You have a number of available licenses that you can use that are designed for cultural works - not software - and should give you better protection with fewer hidden gotchas. Select one based on your specific needs.

GPL-style licenses (derivative works must use a similar license):

  • Free Art License - Analagous to the GPL, but designed for artistic works.
  • CC BY-SA - Requires attribution and derivative works must use the same license.

MIT-style licenses:

  • CC BY - Requires attribution only.
  • MirOS License - Variation of the MIT license designed to be more broadly applicable (refers to generic "works", not programs). Specifically worded to meet certain European legal requirements but should also work elsewhere.
  • WTFPL - Absurdly simple license. Grants the most rights in the fewest possible words.
  • Unnamed GNU license for support files - This is what the GNU project uses for small non-code files (READMEs, etc). It's two sentences, and essentially what you'd get if you removed all the software-specific stuff from the MIT license. Unlike the other GNU licenses, this one is not viral.

Free use, but no derivative works:

  • GNU Verbatim Copying License - Extremely simple license that allows free use and copying, but does not permit changes. If you roll your own license, this is a good starting point.

Public domain equivalents (grants all permissions, while also forfeiting your own rights):

  • CC0 - Releases the work into the public domain in locales where such a thing is possible. In other areas, it provides the legalese necessary to have the same effect. Some locales won't let you give up certain rights, but CC0 ensures that won't limit what others can do with the work.
  • The Unlicense - Same concept as CC0 but with simpler wording. Specifically references software, but change the word "software" to "work" and the first three paragraphs should be all you need.

If you decide to use one of the Creative Commons licenses, make sure you use one that has the "approved for free cultural works" badge.

For cultural works, I recommend one of the MIT-style licenses (the unnamed GNU license in particular) over a public domain style license. They give users the same permissions, but you avoid giving up any of your own rights as the creator. Those rights might be important later if (for instance) someone wants to publish your work as part of a compilation and needs an explicit authorization from the copyright owner. They also help ensure that you are properly credited as the creator, which is an important tradition in the music world.

  • Might help to note that The Unlicense is illegal in some countries, limiting audience reach. Oct 27, 2021 at 23:12
  • @aggregate1166877 Illegal as in "using it is a criminal offense", or as in "doesn't provide all the protections that you need"?
    – bta
    Oct 28, 2021 at 2:53
  • Illegal as in "cannot be applied" in some countries. See: softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/147111/… Oct 29, 2021 at 6:04
  • But to give a real example: in countries like Germany it is explicitly illegal to relinquish all rights, which is exactly what the Unlicense attempts to do. Oct 29, 2021 at 6:25

The MIT License is generally used to absolve the creator of any potential liability, offering the software/product for use "as-is". While music (esp vocals/lyrics) can be viewed as controversial or harmful by some listeners, depending on the country & its laws, artists/creators may be protected from prosecution (First Amendment protections, in a US context).

However, just like various US cases where music creators were challenged under obscenity laws, separate from any intellectual-property claims, I don't think any license you use actually protects you from listeners' potential claims of harm down the line.

The best you can reasonably do, is to choose a license that restricts type/scope of use (Creative Commons has several, here's their license chooser), and add your own additional clause requesting that users ask you for permission for any uses beyond that. Such an approach doesn't free you from liability, but at least gives you more control over how your music will be used, so you can hopefully avoid any problematic applications.


You can as well make your music royalty free while still retaining all copyrights and rights to be known as the author. It would not be impossible to have there be exception if you want. If you are Ok with your music being used on YouTube but don't want it used in a porno for instance.

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