Legality Of Using Online Database Sources For MusicBrainz (ISWC-Net, ASCAP, Others...)

While learning about the creation of a work on MusicBrainz, I read through some of the TOS for ISWC-Net.

You may not systematically or automatically collect, scrape, harvest, or use other means to copy data from the ISWC-Net.

You understand and agree that information obtained from the ISWC-Net may not be sold, offered for sale, marketed, promoted, advertised, commercialized or used for any other purpose, for instance, as the basis to create derivative works, directly or indirectly, in any manner.

You agree not to reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, display, publish, distribute, disseminate, broadcast or circulate any content found on the ISWC-Net to any third party (including, without limitation, the display and distribution of such content via a third-party website).

It looks like ISWC-Net is the main source of ISWCs for marking works. Other posted topics mention using ISWC-Net for other metadata associated with the ISWCs.

Other databases such as the ASCAP Reportory Search seem to have similar clauses in their TOS. Are these sources able to be checked or used without compromising the legal status of the MusicBrainz database?

I know that it’s possible for much of it to not matter. I’m more interested, though, in trying to better understand the relationship that MusicBrainz has with these and other (Amazon, Apple, Discogs, Bandcamp, etc.) online data sources. Can data be legally copied as long as it isn’t done via automated means, or is it currently just accepted as a grey area (fair use)? Should all of the data only be sourced from the metadata of downloaded or ripped music files?


Hello, @virbeta, and welcome to MusicBrainz!

You ask interesting questions. It may well be that only a lawyer could give legally rigorous answers, and I am certainly not a lawyer. It may also be that there are no legally rigorous answers except if you specify a jurisdiction (because the interpretation of laws differ from place to place) and maybe except if there has has been a court decision to interpret the particular legal circumstances.

There is a vested interest for lawyers not to answer questions like this, because they might be wrong. There is a vested interest for official representatives of the legal entity for MusicBrainz not to answer, because it is hard/expensive for them to get legal advice about a correct answer, and giving a wrong answer might cause legal risk which an absence of an answer does not. A lot depends whether the publishers of data being copied decide to make an issue of a certain kind of copying. That in turn might be more of a business issue than a legal issue.

I would suggest, however, that it is wise to get comfortable with uncertainty and with shades of grey for questions like this. And, it is wise to avoid assuming that if a data publisher chooses not to make an issue about individuals copying individual data items, that gives assurance that they will also not make an issue if someone writes an automated process to copy lots of data items at once.

As an engineer, I like clear, logical answers. And I like writing code which efficiently automates data aggregation and information creation. But it is a mistake to assume that business issues and legal issues will be clear and logical, even if that is what I prefer.

This is not a clear, logical answer. Sorry. :wink:


MusicBrainz itself does not “collect, scrape, harvest…” anything from other sources. We - the users - do it. IMHO (and I’m not a lawyer) MusicBrainz can not be made responsible for the actions of their users.

Even if it would be possible to prove that data entered into MusicBrainz violates the mentioned ISWC rules, it would be quite difficult to identify the single users and bring them to justice (in whatever country this could be).

As long as such data is not exclusively available at ISWC, I don’t see why this could be a problem for MusicBrainz.


Terms of service and clickwrap user agreements are not laws. They are, at most, contracts. Whether or not the contract is enforceable, let alone legally binding, is another matter. If you use a bot to perform repeated, systematic searches of ISWC-Net, then maybe you risk an IP ban.