A public domain work is a work that is not protected by copyright. You do not need a license to record a cover of a composition that is a public domain work.


What does it mean if a work is public domain?


When a work is in the public domain, it is not protected by copyright, and others are free to make copies of the work, perform the work, create derivative works based on the work, and generally make use of the work without having to obtain a license.


How do I tell if a work is public domain?


A work’s public domain status is based on copyright law, but since the copyright laws vary from country to country, the rules of public domain vary as well. In the United States, the most common types of public domain works are those which are:


  • Government works and documents
  • Works that have been transferred to the public domain by their creators, and
  • Works that are old.

How old? It can be surprisingly difficult to get an answer to this question, since the copyright laws of the United States have changed over time. The copyright to a work that you create today will last for the duration of your life plus another 70 years, but the rules that apply to the works of yore are not the same rules that apply to music created today. In fact, the rules of public domain are complex enough to take up an entire spreadsheet.


A general rule of thumb under U.S. Copyright Law is that works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain, but in situations where you really, really need an answer and you’re not sure about the public domain status of a work, you may consider giving your friendly neighborhood copyright attorney a call.


What happens if I submit a public domain work to Loudr Licensing?


If you submit a public domain work to Loudr Licensing, our team will research the song and attempt to determine what publishers need to grant rights in order for you to get the rights you want.


If we determine that the work is in the public domain, and thus that no publishers would need to grant rights for you to use the song, you’ll get an email notification and have access to a refund of the associated royalties you paid. Though you will receive a royalty refund, the service fee you paid covers the cost of our work in researching the song and will not be refunded to you.