Most music industry pros have a pretty good understanding of how copyrighted material works, but a slightly murkier subject of discussion is its negative light. If a recording or written work can be copyrighted, then of course a recording or written work can also be not copyrighted, right?
This brings us to the realm of the Public Domain, begging the obvious question:
What is Public Domain?
Public domain is in essence a copyright status that was brought about in the 1920s when copyright laws were first signed into action. Music is far older than copyright, you see, so the lawyers, judges, and powers that be needed to find a way to classify the huge amount of works that had been written and the lesser amount that had been recorded, that would never be copyrighted.
It also provided a way to organize music for which the original copyright holder(s) had passed away. Now, royalties do go to the estate of the deceased and can be renewed, but they aren’t always. Depending on the details of the works and royalty rights which the copyright protects, and the care under which it is taken, the works may become public domain somewhere between 50 - 70 years after the rights holders’ death. Ok - But what does this all mean?
What Does it Mean for Music to Be Public Domain?
The short answer is; It depends on who you ask.
If you are the original rights holder it means you are long dead and gone - so no worries. If you are a music director for film, advertising, radio, or television - it means you can use public domain works free of charge to your heart's content - usually. There is something to be aware of that is called a creative commons copyright - actually there are about seven of them.
Out of these seven, only one actually gives as much freedom as a public domain piece. It is the creative commons zero license - so be careful if you’re considering using creative commons works for any of your marketing assets, videos, or recordings.
These creative commons copyrights are for artists who wish to record their music or sounds and put it out there for people to use. You’ll find a lot of music producers use the individual recordings of drums, synths, guitars, well - you get the picture. These producers will use these to put out a royalty-free sample pack.
They usually charge money for the purchase of the sample pack, but they don’t want the sounds to remain copyrighted. This is a creative commons copyright and can be confused with pieces that are public domain.
If you are a music producer who uses samples to create your music, the public domain might seem like an attractive place to get your samples. If your music works with really old recordings from the mid-1920s and sooner, then you’re in luck. If you’re looking for something contemporary to put on your ad for free, not so much.
Using the right tools, like Reprtoir’s Catalog Management Solution and Release Builder allows music industry pros to stay on top of their audio and assets. The catalog manager not only allows teams to organize and manage contracts, but they are also able to cross-reference metadata and optimize their catalog’s performance.
Tracking all licensing and royalties and staying on top of this administrative type of work allows teams that work for labels and publishers to save valuable time and resource their time more effectively. Another great tool that Reprtoir offers is the release builder. As your label prepares to release that new EP or even full-length album, organization is critical. The release manager allows your team to compile all of the necessary materials. Everything that you need to promote and release the next album can be organized in one place.
Reprtoir is essentially a built-in content management system (CMS). If you are using public domain or royalty-free music to promote a video, show, or advertise an upcoming tour, you can easily manage and schedule it using this tool. Using the Reprtoir suite is a great way for music industry professionals to keep track of details like which tracks they are releasing and where to pay what royalties.
If creative commons or public domain music is to be used, then Reprtoir helps to track that too. This software suite was designed to help make the complicated business of managing music to be less complicated. It has that in common with public domain and royalty free music.
Public domain music is a helpful caveat of copyright’s conception, allowing for music to be freely used without shorting anybody.