With the announcement by a filmaker that he aims to go to court to claim that the song “Happy Birthday To You” is actually public domain I thought it would be worth just clarifying a little about public domain compositions but very briefly.
Public domain music describes compositions that are available and free for anyone to use. However, the recording, or the performance of a freely available composition will be owned by the maker of the recording or performance, or whoever the title of the copyright is transferred to.
So what compositions are public domain? Well even though there seems to be some sort of constructed confusion around the validity of the song Happy Birthday To You, it is normally very simple to define in the USA. Other countries differ slightly but in general follow the US’s ruling that any composition created before 1922 is now public domain. A useful set of questions and answers are located here.
This ruling means that providing classical music from the great composers of a few hundred years ago is easy enough if you can record them yourself. Of course not many people can record full orchestral or complex piano pieces so we still generally have to rely on the skills of musicians to make these creations available to us royalty free.
If you do have any questions around the use of compositions and copyright please contact us and we will be happy to help you.