Limelight Knowledge Base/Licenses outside Limelight services

Do I need a license for songs in the Public Domain?

Alex Holz
posted this on September 20, 2011 01:05 PM

No, songs that are public domain do not require a mechanical license UNLESS you're using a copyrighted arrangement of a public domain work, which may need to be licensed.

In the event a track is deemed "public domain" by our licensing team, we will issue a notice to the US Copyright Office to ensure a license is put in place (in case you are using a copyrighted arrangement).  We strongly recommend researching public domain status before placing an order.  No refunds will take place.

For more information on Public Domain, please visit Public Domain Info (www.pdinfo.com), Public Domain Sherpa (www.publicdomainsherpa.com) and the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov).

 

Comments

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Ian Cube

How would we know if the arrangement is copyrighted?  Do you have a service that provides the contact info of the publisher of the arranged song?

September 29, 2012 10:52 AM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

Hi Ian,

If you're using sheet music, that's the easiest way to tell.  Alternatively the liner notes from a particular recording will often tell you if you're referencing a copyrighted arrangement.  PD Info and the Library of Congress sites are both ideal for further checking.

-Alex

October 01, 2012 11:41 AM
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Frank Eastes

I have a few questions and I believe they all relate to PD works.

I am working on releasing an performances recorded from a live gig, and 2 original tunes recoded in the studio, packaged as an album and for digital downloads. This is my first such project that I am self-producing so please bear with me.

In the list of tunes I am preparing for clearances, I see that at least one is showing in the pdinfo.com website as being the the PD. However, your above statements says

In the event a track is deemed "public domain" by our licensing team, we will issue a notice to the US Copyright Office to ensure a license is put in place (in case you are using a copyrighted arrangement). No refunds will take place.

So if I apply for a license through your service, for a PD tune (it is recorded as an instrumental on my project) your system still adds up the license and royalty charges. Your above statement says that will not be refunded. I am a little confused.

Do I even need to apply for a license for those tunes that appear to be in the PD? If so, then why would I pay nonrefundable license fees and royalties for something that is already free to me? What does having a license for a PD tunes allow me to do that I otherwise can't do with the tune anyway? What does informing the US Copyright office of my use of a PD tune, get me? Some sort of protection? Very unclear on that.

I guess I need clarification on that. Do I even need to include those tune(s) on my list I submit to your service for research and licenses?

Most of the tunes I'm submitting are clearly not in the PD so this question applies only to those tunes in this grey area.

(I'll have a few other questions related to PD but from different real-life scenarios with my current project.)

Many thanks.

November 03, 2012 06:54 AM
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Frank Eastes

Another question related to PD music.

One of the tracks from my project is an instrumental that has no known traceable history. I learned it from a guitar player who told a tale of the writer being a resident of North Carolina around the turn of the century (1900's) or eary 1910s or 1920s and it being handed down from there. That story came from the guitar teacher I learned it from 25 years ago. No one anywhere else in my musical travels has ever heard of this instrumental. All my research shows it is an unknown tune, it is not showing up anywhere, in any references, or in any music library.

The tune has been previously published on another album approx 10 years ago, by the same guitar player who appears on my current project. At that time, he claimed PD then. My arangement is different so I'm not copying any arrangement.

Should I assume this is a PD instrumental? That is my operating assumption at this point. If I submitted that instrumental to your service and it were deemed to be unheard of I am unclear of how even your service will be able to determine it is in the PD. I am considering self-declaring the tune to be in the PD and instead copyrighting my arrangement.

What would be the best way to proceed on this tune? I can submit audio examples if helpful.

Many thanks.

November 03, 2012 07:02 AM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

To start - songs in the public domain don't require a license UNLESS you're using a copyrighted arrangement.  If you deem a composition public domain, don't use Limelight to clear it. 

The reason we issue to the Copyright Office is simple: in the event a track is considered public domain, we have no way of knowing whether it was a copyrighted arrangement.  To ensure all users are able to release product accordingly, we assume all works require a license and will issue to USCO as a safety net.  If you're confident your version isn't a copyrighted arrangement and IS public domain, don't put it through the Limelight system.

As for the song in question, you would need to find at least another artist that has recorded/released the work.  The use case sounds vague and may or may not be public domain, but without that information it'd likely be difficult to determine.

Hope that helps!

 

November 03, 2012 09:56 AM
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Jerri Clemons

So for instance, I'm doing a EP of songs that I know are Public Domain songs, and while I'm using the lyrics from the songs the musical arrangement is completely original. Would I still need to use Limelight or just put it on the EP?

January 06, 2013 12:17 AM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

Hi Jerri,

If you know the original works are public domain, then you would not need a mechanical license.  You would only need to secure a mechanical license if the arrangement being covered were still under copyright.

January 07, 2013 11:14 AM
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Justin Case

Hi tere Alex,

The music is a classical composition (1836) and is hence in Public Domain but the Lyrics are new - (2009)

We want to make a cover song using the new lyrics  and we have recorded the music so we own the music mechanical copyright.

Do we need to get the clearance for use of the lyrics? if so what kind of clearance & how ?

Thanks in advance, Justin

February 25, 2013 11:02 PM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

That likely will require a license (since the new composition would encompass the lyrics combined with the classical work).  You would likely need to contact the publisher who administers the version with lyrics to secure a license.

February 28, 2013 10:41 PM
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Marco Egoavil

I have a question.

I am writing a book where I would like to publish the lyrics of 11 famous American songs. Do I need a license to publish the lyrics in my book? Songs are like Stardust, As time goes by, What a difference a day makes, etc. Lyrics will be in English and in Spanish. I will acknowledge the authors of music and lyrics.

March 05, 2013 12:10 PM
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Drew

Hey Alex,

So here's my question. I produced a cover of His Eye is on the Sparrow. The song itself I'm pretty sure is in Public Domain because it was written in 1905. However, we did follow a very similar arrangement to the version done in Sister Act 2, performed by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount.  Therefore I believe I need to get a license in order to distribute this song but my question is do I get a license in the same way I would get one for a copywritten song? I know the original arranger does not own the song and I believe it's owned by Touchstone Pictures. Do I put that in the Publishers box when I got to "clear the song"? And do I put the original writer in the "original writer" box or the arranger? Any help on what I need to do to proceed would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Alex!

July 01, 2013 05:40 PM
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Drew

And also, would the publisher be the maker of the movie (Touchstone Pictures), distributor of the album (Hollywood Records), or maker of the sheet music (Hal Leonard)? Or do I just leave that to you guys to figure that out? I didn't get the sheet music in order to produce this song. I learned it by ear so I doubt that makes a difference but I just want to make sure I'm getting the proper clearance for this song!

July 01, 2013 05:49 PM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

It's best to contact both - whomever controls that actual copyrighted arrangement would be the proper entity to clear it with (IF it's in fact a copyrighted arrangement), however it won't be determined until you find the copyright owner. Sheet music often contains copyright info - so best to look there first.

July 02, 2013 05:31 PM
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John Davis

I'm a manager for a youth orchestra.  

We want to perform and record live performances of Public Domain and Copyrighted Classical music for Digital Downloads.  Distribution would be free and only available to family members of the student musicians on Dropbox.com.

I understand I'll need to purchase a mechanical license for each of the copyrighted works.  And your responses above indicate I won't need to purchase a mechanical license for each of the Public Domain works.  Can you give me the source of your information so I can use it as a resource with my Advisory  Board?

Also, Can you give me some information on yourself and your authority to answer such questions?  

Thanks for any help you can provide.

John Davis

August 18, 2013 11:56 PM
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Gary Snyder

Do I need a license to put on iTunes the song, "Jingle Bell Rock!" if I wrote out and used my own arrangement and recorded the music myself? 

December 09, 2013 03:15 PM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

Yes - any song still under copyright (including Jingle Bell Rock) would require a license.

December 09, 2013 03:18 PM
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SwaggboyReek

I Made A Remix To Lil Snupe - Melo. I Used His Beat But The Lyrics Are Completely Mines Im Wondering Would I Need This To Get My Song On iTunes, Pandora, Etc

January 12, 2014 09:55 PM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

That's a derivative work and would require clearing with the label/publisher directly. We are unfortunately not able to clear derivative works.

January 13, 2014 11:58 AM
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Marissa Christy
I have recently hired a birth photographer who creates a slideshow of all the images using a song of my choosing. My first choice is "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" by Ingrid Michelson (a cover of Elvis Presley). Do we need to license that? She posts the slideshow on YouTube.
January 24, 2014 11:07 AM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

Hi Marissa - Limelight does not cover YouTube uses unfortunately.

January 24, 2014 11:58 AM
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** Suzuki

 

We are about to release our new CD with 10 songs.  All our original arrangement by 2 instruments and did copyright pre-registration submission.  

10 arrangements are basically based on " public domain music"  like Greensleeves, Amazing Grace, and old Japanese tunes, etc.

So we've never thought about mechanical license necessity.

Today, I found that one of the songs may not be public domain. (not certain)

According to Wikipedia, Adagio in Gminor  by Tomaso Albinoni (16th century)was created by Remo Giazotto (20th century) based on discovery of a manuscript fragment of an Albinoni sonata.  For me, it sounds odd, but still do I need to get mechanical license on this?   Or how I can confirm this Wiki statement is true.

 

 

April 01, 2014 04:33 PM
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Alex Holz
Limelight

If that arrangement is a copyrighted arrangement AND still under copyright, then yes - you may need a license.

April 01, 2014 04:40 PM
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