About the PD Info Public Domain Music List
We get the same question all of the time: "Where can we get a complete list of public domain songs?" Not only would that be impossible, but it would almost certainly have little practical use.
All possible U.S. copyright protection has expired for musical works published as sheet music in 1926 or earlier. Fom the beginning of time up thru 1926 there were millions and millions of songs written but most likely only about 25,000 songs (or even less) are well recognized today. So many songs have been recorded in just the last 100 years that even historians and music professionals could not listen to all of them in a lifetime.
How many songs that you hear today will be remembered in 100 years? Before a song entered the public domain, it used take one very long lifetime of at least 95 years. But Music published after 1972 gets 70 years copyright protection after the death of the last surviving author. So around 1973 it began to take two lifetimes. It is a quite rare musical composition that is still known 100 years later. Most of mankind's musical creation is long, long forgotten.
How do we make a list of public domain songs that is quite useful without being so big that it becomes useless? If you only recognize one song out of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000, is that a "good" list?
In 1998 we started out with a list of public domain folk songs compiled by Margie Hazen in Ashland, Ohio. But a song had to be published in sheet music form to ever enter the public domain. We quickly (and sadly) discovered that many very well known old songs were never published in sheet music form until the late 1920s . . . or even later. We had to remove all the titles from Margie'a list where no PD sheet music had been yet published. For many, many old folk songs, the first person to write them down and publish them got copyright protection for 95 years after their publication.
Since 1998 we have carefully researched every song that anyone has asked about. If we can find a PD sheet music publication, we added it to our list and to our library. As new works enter the public domain on January 1 of each year, we add all the published popular songs of that year. And as inquiries come, we do further research and add more PD works to our list and library.
The one exception to our research is classical music. IMSLP.org has built a fantastic website providing classical music that can be downloaded for free. There is no reason for us to try to duplicate a job well done. There are few other resources to quickly research public domain music. We can provide reprints of some of the most popular classical music, but we find our time is best spent on popular songs, folk songs, spirituals, children's songs and other genres where comprehensive researched lists are rare, hard-to-find, and often extremly inaccurate.
The PD Info Public Domain Music List is a list of the most popular songs of every PD year along with any song, however obscure, that anyone has asked about since 1998. Please don't send us lists of 100's of songs that no one remembers. But if you have specific songs that you would like to use that are not on our list, just let us know. If we can find a PD sheet music publication, we will add it to our list and to our library.
If song that is truly in the public domain is not on our list, it means that no one has asked about the song in the past 25 years. If you have good reason to believe a song may have been published in 1926 or earlier, please feel free to ask and ask and ask. If you want to use an old song, it is very likely someone else might want to use it also.