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Copyrights on 'older' songs...?

23 Apr 01 - 07:11 PM (#447677)
Subject: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Jande

Does anyone know how I can find out how old a song is? For instance "Summertime" (Gershwin?), House of the Rising Sun, O Sinnerman.

I'd like to be able to add songs to my public repertoire and CDs that I normally sing just for friends and family, but I'd like to make sure I'm not infringing copyrights by doing so.

Is there a searchable web-based list somewhere that includes copyright dates?


~ Jande

29 Sep 01 - 08:56 PM (#561620)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Jim Dixon

Jande: Have a look at this web site: Public Domain Music. It might tell you what you want to know.

To other Mudcatters: It looks like Jande hasn't posted anything to Mudcat since August 5, 2001. It's a shame this question didn't get answered sooner. Does anyone know how to get in touch with Jande?

29 Sep 01 - 10:25 PM (#561674)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: 53

house of the rising sun was written by alan price. bob

29 Sep 01 - 11:17 PM (#561695)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: wysiwyg

Jim, check with hesperis.


29 Sep 01 - 11:49 PM (#561714)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Kaleea

Anything Gershwin is still under copyright.

30 Sep 01 - 12:12 AM (#561729)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: GUEST,Genie

I understand, from visiting the Public Domain site, that almost everything written in the US after about 1924 is still under copyright. Even with old folk songs, you have to be careful, because certain versions (specific verses, arrangements, are under copyright).
E.g. Irving Berlin owned the copyrights on most of his songs, because he published most himself. "Alexander' s Ragtime Band," however, which he wrote in 1910, is in public domain.
George Gershwin published many songs in the late 1920's and he died over 50 years ago, so one might expect that some of his songs would be in PD. But I understand his family (no children) has sued (successfully, it would seem) to extend the copyrights.
Personally, I would love more information about this.
His brother Ira did not die until the 1990's I think, and Ira was lyricist on many of George's songs.

Even "Happy Birthday," should still be under copyright, since its author died within the last 10 to 15 years, and the current copyright law, if I am not mistaken, is "author's life plus 50 years."

30 Sep 01 - 06:46 AM (#561831)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: pavane

There was a discussion somewhere about 'Happy Birthday', written 1932, I think. The tune is based on an older tune, which is apparently out of copyright, but the actual modification (Two notes for the word Happy, where the original had only one) is still IN copyright, and has actively been protected.

If you are familiar with a song called 'Two little boys', check out 'Two Sailor Lads' (from 1906) in the Levy Sheet music collection, for just one example of possible recycling.

01 Oct 01 - 04:37 AM (#562381)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Joe Offer

Hey, Pavane - I couldn't find "Two Sailor Lads" at Levy - can you halp me find it.

Jande, our Benevolent U.S. Congress passed a law in 1998 which extended copyrights up to 120 years - but works published in 1923 and earlier remained in the public domain (the law is a lot more complicated than that, but that's a general guideline). the Levy Sheet Music Collection has lots of online sheet music for music published through 1923, but not for anything after that. Darn.

Sinner Man is in Cecil Sharp's English Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians - published in 1917, which means it's more-or-less in Publis Domain.

Alan Price may have written a version of "House of the Rising Sun," (copyright 1964) but Sing Out! has a version copyrighted by John & Alan Lomax in 1941. I can't find anything earlier, but there's a good chance the song is far older than the Lomax copyright.

"Summertime" (words by DuBose Heyward and music by George Gershwin), was part of "Porgy and Bess," Copyright 1935. The copyright is quite solid for "Summertime," but the other two songs can most probably be considered "traditional."

Do people actually still pay the Lomax family for all the songs John and Alan collected from traditional singers? I dunno. Do they?

-Joe Offer (e-mail sent to Jande, but account is shown as closed)-

01 Oct 01 - 09:18 AM (#562482)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Jack the Sailor

Hi folks, Having read the ASCAP and BMI sites a while ago, I'm pretty sure Jande can add these song to Jande's public repertoire in spite of someone holding copyright. It would be polite to send a set list to the appropriate assn. But in the US even that is not required. Of course CD's are another matter and would require the payment of mechanical rights but there would probably be no problem getting permission.

02 Oct 01 - 03:58 AM (#563220)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: GUEST,Genie

Why is it that patents expire in about 20 years but copyrights can continue for 120 years, even if the author has been dead for over 50 years?
Seems to me this unnecessarily deprives our county of its collective heritage.


02 Oct 01 - 10:11 AM (#563383)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Cappuccino

May I offer a suggestion for anyone recording from England - I've found it very useful. If you are producing a limited-edition recording, which I *think* is a thousand copies or less (I never go anywhere near that high!!!) then the MCPS will sell you a 'limited-availability product licence' which gets you out of a lot of the paperwork associated with copyright on musical recordings.

It covers, for example, such useful categories as 'local interest', 'charity', and 'recordings of amateur performers for limited local sale'. The fees depend on the numbers pressed and the duration in minutes - the licence can be as low as £17 sterling.

Visit, or call 0207 306 4546.

Best wishes, all - Ian B

02 Oct 01 - 10:11 AM (#563384)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?

Genie's apt question has been asked by others as well: see here, here, and here. The second of these links explicitly compares the patent and copyright terms.

02 Oct 01 - 10:39 AM (#563402)
Subject: RE: Copyrights on 'older' songs...?
From: Burke

To include a song under copyright on your CD's you need to pay certain set fees. I think it's called a mechanical right. The agencies that administer the rights are on the web. Try super search or a general web search.

If you perform in public, the venue where you play should be paying the fees that cover your using copyrighted materials.