When does music fall into the public domain? Music Licensing Guide

There is still no guarantee of accuracy and it is better to read their terms and conditions or consult an entertainment lawyer before commercially using any public domain music.

3.) Optionally you can go to either go to the government copyright website and do some research about the underlying copyright. You need to do an extensive copyright search.

What you are going to see next is a search form for the Library of Congress Public catalog. You need to click on “Other search options”, now you have the form, you can enter any of the above information obtained about the underlying music recording. For example, you can enter the surname of the creator, songwriter or even the title of the work. For example purposes, say someone is interested to know my catalog whether it now belongs to public domain, and they will enter any phrase in the catalog name at the box.

Copyright records

Copyright records

Then in the search result, for example click “Emerson Roble Maningo Song Catalog”, and hence you have this following information obtained:

Date of Creation: 2008
Date of Publication: 2009-01-01
Nation of First Publication: United States

Combining the above information with the life of the author, you can pretty estimate the expiration of the copyright.

Is there a Public Domain Sound Recordings for Classical Music?

One of the most commonly asks question: “Is there a public domain sound recording for a classical music?” The short answer is NONE. The primary reason is complex:

a.) While the music piece itself (or with lyrics) might be in the public domain, it does not mean that the “recordings” of that song are also in the public domain. Remember that the copyright of music/lyrics is different from the copyright of its recordings.

Since two copyrights are different, it is possible to have different owners. The songwriter or music publisher owns the copyright of the music/lyrics; while the recording label or producer owns the copyright of the sound recording. If the songwriter is also the music publisher and the recording producer (such as many independent artist today producing recordings at home) , then that artist owns both the copyright of the music/lyrics and the sound recording.

b.) Sound recordings are not protected by US Copyright law before February 15, 1972. They are protected by state laws. You can read the details here.

According to that article, public domain sound recordings may start to appear in February 2067. So you really cannot use any sound recordings in your project without obtaining permission from a sound copyright owner whether the work falls below the following classification:

a.) Classical music recordings (done by Mozart, Bach, Handel, Beethoven) ,etc.
b.) Any traditional folk songs and jazz music.
c.) Any foreign music from other countries.

Is there any way you can obtain the sound recording of your favourite classical music piece without paying a very expensive license fees from the sound recording copyright owner? First, you need to do research very carefully. I recommend the following steps:

Step1.) Ensure that the classical music piece (the music itself not the sound recording), is now in the public domain. You can go to this website.

And then click “Browse by composer”. Navigate until you will see the music sheet of the classical piece.

Step2.) If you see that the copyright is now in the “public domain”. Download that piece of music sheet and consult a copyright attorney or copyright expert regarding the authenticity of the sheet music in the public domain.

Step3.) If the music piece is indeed a public domain work; you have the right to create a sound recording out of that public domain work.

Methods on how you can create your own sound recording of a classical music

There is a lot of ways you can create a sound recording out of classical piece of work:

a.) Hire an orchestra to publicly perform the music and record it. Pay them under work for hire agreement and then you now own the sound recording copyright of that classical piece. Bear in mind that hiring an orchestra might get costly in some countries or simply not available.

b.)Another inexpensive way is to hire a musician to transcribe the musical piece into a sound recording using music software such as Notion 3. Then the exported wav file can be copyrighted as a sound recording work. You can read my Notion 3 review music notation software.

Once you have that sound recording in physical form (CD, etc.); you can now submit and register it to copyright office. The sound recording copyright of that classical music piece is now rightfully yours.

Content last updated on July 24, 2012