A few years ago, we shared a blog post detailing some of the most popular Christmas songs that could be found in the public domain. These songs, many dating back to the 1700s and 1800s, are free to share, reproduce, or perform with no permissions or licensing needed.
Which Christmas songs entered the public domain this year?
Following the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, songs that were first registered or published in the United States before January 1, 1978 could receive a maximum term of protection of 95 years from the date of publication. This means that Christmas songs first registered or published in the United States in 1924 received a maximum term of protection through 2019 (1924+95 years). With copyright term running to the end of the calendar year, works first published in the U.S. entered the public domain in the U.S. on January 1st of this year.
In order to receive the maximum term of protection, a song first published in 1924 would require inclusion of a valid copyright notice and renewal of the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. That renewal had to have been made in the 28th year following publication. Failure to include a notice or file timely renewal would mean that the song would at that point enter the public domain. Copyright formalities have changed over time, but the charts found in Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States can help you navigate the requirements.
How do you check to see if a song was renewed? Copyright renewals and registrations were recorded in the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE). These records have been scanned and made available by a number of organizations—one great resource is the Online Books Page through the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. More recent copyright records (1978 to present) can be searched online through the Copyright Office’s copyright catalog.
To search renewals for songs first published in the United States in 1924, we searched records spanning from 1951-1952. Below are some just some of the songs that were published in 1924 and renewed in their 28th year. After enjoying a term of copyright protection of 95 years, these works entered the public domain this year:
- CHRISTMAS FANTASIA; for string orchestra & piano by Benoit Hollander. © 9Dec24, E599510. R87828, 13Dec51, Grace Adeline Hollander (W)
- CHRISTMAS NIGHT, from Earl Carroll vanities; w & m Earl Carroll. 2d ed. © 10Oct24, E600428. R86228, 13Nov51, Jesse I. Schuyler (E)
- COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS; for violin & piano by Jaromir Weinberger, rev. Otakar Sevcik. © 18Feb24, E592070. R89247, 19Jan52, Jaromir Weinberger (A)
- SAVOY CHRISTMAS MEDLEY; for piano, arr. Debroy Somers. © 8Dec24; E599194-599195. R89904-89905; 28Jan52; Debroy Somers (A)
- CHRISTMAS BELLS; anthem, w & m Cecil Forsyth; mixed voices. © 10Oct24, E602740. R85214, 24Oct51, P. David Forsyth, Walters B. Forsyth & Hugh Forsyth (NK)
- THE NEW BORN KING; Christmas anthem, W. C. Krensch, M Charles L. Espoir, arr. Hartley Moore; mixed voices. © on arr., 22Sep24, E602736. R86918, 26Nov51, Oliver Ditson Co. (PWH)
- SANTA CLAUS BLUES; w & m Charley Straight & Gus Kahn. © 1Nov24, E602777. R91975, 19Mar52, Grace LeBoy Kahn (W)
Arrangements and Recordings
As you can see above, it is possible to register and renew a copyright in a new arrangement, revision, or edition of a work. This copyright extends only to the new creative expression included in the arrangement, revision, or new edition. A new arrangement of a public domain song does not alter or extent the public domain status of the underlying work.
This blog post has discussed public domain musical compositions. What about recordings that are made of the songs? Are 1924 recordings also in the public domain? The term of protection for sound recordings is measured differently, meaning it is possible for a composition to be in the public domain while a recording of that composition that is made and released in the same year remains protected by copyright. Our blog post, “When does music enter the public domain in the United States?” provides more information on this topic.
New works enter the public domain every year on January 1st. Check out the Public Domain Day Project to learn how Copyright Services and University Libraries are celebrating Public Domain Day 2021.
By Allison DeVito (ODEE Library Services Liaison, Office of Distance Education and eLearning) and Maria Scheid (Copyright Services Specialist at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries)