What Does It Mean When a Work Is In the Public Domain?

All bets are off, basically.

When a song’s copyright expires, it automatically enters the public domain. Public domain works are not restricted by copyright law and do not require a license or fee to use. This means a user has complete access to a composition. 

Here’s a short list of songs that have achieved public domain status:

  • All works published in the U.S. before 1923
  • All non-renewed works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1963 
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989, and without a subsequent registration within five years

More information on how to discover unrestricted works can be found over at Public Domain Review.  For a complete breakdown of how copyright law works in territories outside North America, please check with your local government.


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