After a certain period of time, a work’s intellectual property protections may expire and it enters the public domain. Public domain indicates any creative works that have no protection under intellectual property laws are considered to be in the public domain, and may be freely used by anyone.
This means that the works are owned by the public, and generally, a copyright, trademark, or patent may not be obtained. Once a work enters the public domain, it can be used and distributed freely without the legal risk. People looking to use creative works such as songs may wonder when a song becomes public domain.
When Does a Song Become Public Domain?
In most cases, songs enter the public domain when its’ copyright expires. Today, this is the case for any song made before 1926. For songs released after that, the copyright typically expires 70 years after the original artist of the song passes away. You have to be careful however. Just because a song is public domain does not mean every recording of that song is. If somebody records a new version of a song that is in the public domain, that new recording of the song may still be under intellectual property protection.
Since it takes so long for a copyright to expire, there are not many modern options for people looking to use recent music. Just because a song is not in the public domain yet, however, does not mean you absolutely can’t use it.
Can You Use a Copyrighted Song?
Using a copyrighted song without permission is not allowed and you could face consequences. If you do this, you’ll likely be asked to take your content down, or it will be taken down on behalf of the platform you use. Depending on the nature of your usage, the copyright owner may also choose to pursue legal options against you.
Considering the consequences, it’s not a good idea to use a copyrighted song without permission. To use a copyrighted song, you must get permission from the copyright owner to do so. To do this, you must first find out who the owner of the copyright is through your own research. Our partners at the Copyright Alliance have a list of resources available to find copyright owners.
Once you find out who the owner is, you must simply ask them for permission of use through an email or even print mail if the former is not possible. Copyrightlaws.com provides an excellent example of a copyright permissions letter you can use here. Some copyright owners charge fees for people to use their work. If you are not willing to go through the trouble of getting permission to use a copyrighted song, you may want to consider the myriad of royalty free music databases online to find stock music.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article shall be construed as legal advice.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.