Public Domain Music

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 What Is Public Domain Music?

Music in the public domain is listed in the public domain registry. Since such songs are not copyrighted, they do not “belong” to anyone. Thus, no one person owns copyright protection for sales or usage.

Music can enter the public domain in many ways, including:

  • The previous copyrights have expired
  • The creator specifically declared the work public domain
  • Copyrights never existed for the song

Can Anyone Use Public Domain Music?

Unlike copyrighted music, public domain music can be used, performed, or sold by anyone. With copyrighted music, the copyright holder usually needs to authorize any sales or performances of the work. Therefore, public domain music is popular for business uses, including advertisements and campaigns, as it allows companies to save money on royalties.

When Does Music Enter Into the Public Domain?

U.S. copyright laws allow copyrights to last up to 28 years, plus 47 more years after a renewal. In total, 75 years will pass before the work enters the public domain. Until newer editions are published, which can be copyrighted, all music published before 1923 is in the public domain. Songs existing before 1973 (a year of major changes in copyright laws) may also vary in their copyright applications.

The Creative Commons License

A song that is released to the public with no copyright protection may be registered with a Creative Commons License. You might think a song under the Creative Commons License is the same quality as free public domain music. Can’t these songs be used in the same way?

Sadly, no.

While public domain music has no restrictions on what you can do with it, the Creative Commons License may have some restrictions depending on which license is in effect.

Enter the Creative Commons Zero License. There are seven Creative Common Licenses, and this is the only one that gives you complete control over how you use the piece of music. It’s easy to confuse this with public domain music, of course.

You have two main differences, however, that are clear and distinct:

Free public domain music is no longer copyrighted due to the author’s death 50-70 years ago, so the general public can use it for free.

The author of Creative Commons Zero-licensed music has voluntarily decided to release the work for public use immediately with no copyright protection.

Can I Download Public Domain Music for Free?

Yes, that’s an easy answer. Technically, since original public domain songs do not have any copyrights attached, they can be used for free in your projects.

You may also have noticed that there are a lot of websites that charge for downloading these tracks. What gives them this right?

Sites and artists may decide to perform and record new performances of old songs that are in the public domain. The person who does this becomes the owner of the copyright to that recording — the recording you are then charged for downloading.

Public Domain Music’s Downsides

Even though free public domain music is great, there are some downsides to be aware of.

There is a good chance, for example, that your favorite artist’s songs, which you want to use in your projects, are not free. It’s a fact of life. Let’s say you just use public domain songs for your project. If that is the case, you may find that you are severely restricted by what you can use, limiting your creativity.

There’s nothing wrong with using public domain songs now and then, but you’re probably better off using copyright-free music from a site such as Artlist. You can find something for whatever project you’re working on with a large collection of high-quality, royalty-free songs available through the Universal License.

Is it Possible to Put a Copyright on Public Domain Music?

In general, no- public domain music is already in the public domain and may not be copyrighted as it appears in the registry. However, you can alter a public domain work in a way that it becomes an entirely new work in its own right. Such a song can usually be copyrighted.

How Are Songs Licensed Per U.S. Copyright Law?

Your business or store environment should utilize music to create ambiance, keep customers interested, and keep your employees focused. You can’t just plug your device into your store’s sound system and play whatever playlist you want.

Each and every song available on a streaming service is copyrighted for a particular use, and in the case of most streaming sites, that use is private and individual. You can play music in this way at a private party, but not in a retail chain, restaurant, corporate affair, trade show, or even in a work presentation.

If you wish to play a recorded song in front of a significant group of people, you must pay for music licensing. You have to work with performing rights organizations (PROs), which manage copyright licenses on behalf of musicians, composers, and music publishers. You pay them for music, and they distribute that money in the form of royalties to artists and copyright holders.

The Challenges of Using Public Domain Music for Commercial Purposes

In the case of a large company, you may not have to worry about the cost of music you wish to use commercially. All you need to do is pay the necessary royalties or license fees for the music you want.

However, most people, businesses, and commercial ventures do not have that power. Public domain music may sound attractive in these circumstances, but it is much more difficult to find public domain music that works for commercial needs than published, copyright-protected, trendy new music.

Some sites provide searchable databases of public domain music. They may be categorized by genre, artist, or original year of publication. Due to the fact that most of these works were published before the 1930s, there may not be a recording of the song (and if there is, it might be copyright protected, and you would still need to license it).

Many of the genres that consumers want to listen to today date back to at least the 1960s, if not later. Even classical music may not appeal to your customers.

Finding public domain songs that suit your commercial needs takes a lot of work. You might want to consider which genres might work for you when making a video for TikTok that advertises your business and then listen to several songs in those genres. Putting together a video for TikTok can take hours!

You may find something that works for your social media presence, but you don’t know if it will work. You have many other tasks to attend to as a manager of a retail outlet or restaurant. Spending hours searching for enough music for your establishment’s playlist is unrealistic.

How Can I Get Help with Public Domain Laws?

Understanding U.S. copyright laws is crucial to understanding music and public domain issues. You may wish to hire a copyright lawyer if you need help with these types of legal issues. If you need to file a lawsuit, your attorney will provide guidance and represent you in court. Use LegalMatch to find the right copyright lawyer for your needs today.

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