How do I determine if a given recording is in the public domain?
All music in the public domain can be used without obtaining permission from the copyright owner. Determining which works reside in the public domain, however, proves challenging for a number of reasons, including the fact that every recording embodies two separate copyrighted works--a musical composition (the lyrics and the melody) and the sound recording (the recorded version of the composition). As such, you must separately determine whether each component of the recording is in the public domain. For example, if you are considering using a recent recording of a Mozart composition, the composition would be in the public domain (because it is very old) but the recording would not (because, in this example, it is recent). It is sometimes very difficult to determine which works are in the public domain. For these reasons we recommend that you hire a private attorney to advise you with respect to the public domain status of individual songs. You may also find listings of material in the public domain on the Internet. The following books might provide additional useful information: The Public Domain: How to Find and Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More, by Stephen Fishman; and The Mini-Encyclopedia of Public Domain Songs, 1998, by Barbara Zimmerman, et al.