[Dixielandjazz] Public Domain / Copyright Law

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jun 10 15:52:42 PDT 2006

Dave asked about Public Domain. Here is the skinny. Note the: "If you create
a new version of a PD song, you can copyright your version and no one can
use it without your permission."

Steve Barbone

The Public Domain  

Music and lyrics written by an American author and published in 1922 or
earlier are in the Public Domain in the United States.   No one can claim
ownership of a song in the public domain, therefore public domain songs may
be used by everyone.   PD songs may be used for profit-making without paying
any royalties.  If you create a new version or derivative of a public domain
song, you can copyright your version and no one can use it without your
permission.  However, the song remains in the public domain, and anyone else
can also make and copyright their own version of the same PD song.
Songs change over time.  Even though a public domain version exists, some
versions may still be under copyright protection.  The only way to
confidently identify a PD version is to find a copy of the song with a
copyright date old enough for public domain status.  You can then use that
PD version or work from it to create your own derivative work.  If you work
from a version still under copyright protection, the copyright owner can
likely make a valid claim for royalties.

Music recordings are protected separately from musical compositions. 
Virtually every sound recording in the USA is under copyright protection
until 2067.  If you need a sound recording, you will either have to record
it yourself or license one.   A large selection of easily licensed sound
recordings can be found in our Royalty Free Music sections.
There are songs written after 1922 which are PD in the US, but only rarely
can they be confidently identified without the advice of an attorney or
rights clearance agency.   Countries other than the US may offer copyright
protection for 70 years or more after the death of the author.  There is no
such thing as an "international copyright".  If you wish to use a song
outside of the United States, you must check the copyright laws for each
individual country where you use the song.

United States Copyright Law
US copyright law is found in Title 17 of the United States Code and is
administered by the US Copyright Office.   " Terms for Copyright
Protection", a U.S. Government publication, summarizes the current duration
of copyright protection for published works as follows:

*    Works created after 1/1/1978  -  life of the longest surviving author
plus 70 years -  earliest possible PD date is 1/1/2048
*    Works registered before 1/1/1978  -  95 years from the date copyright
was secured.
*    Works registered before 1/1/1923 - Copyright protection for 75 years
has expired and these works are in the public domain.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was signed into law on October
27, 1998.  Prior to the Sonny Bono 20 year copyright term extension,
copyright protection for works registered before 1/1/1978 was 75 years;
therefore, compositions registered in 1922 or earlier entered the public
domain on 1/1/1998.  The 1998 copyright extension did not extend copyright
protection from 75 to 95 years for songs already in the public domain so . .

*  The Good News -  works published in the United States in 1922 or earlier
   are in the public domain even if  they are not yet 95 years old. 
*  The Bad News - no new works will enter the public domain until January 1,

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