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Did you know that eleven of the top twenty most covered songs are Christmas songs? Some are new; written less than 100 years ago. Many date back to the 1800's. When selecting songs for your holiday album, it is useful to consider which of these beloved classics are in the public domain and which are copyrighted. Copyrighted songs require permission from the owner, while public domain songs require no permission and can save you money on licensing costs. How can you know which holiday classics are in the public domain and which are copyrighted? Read on to learn the answer to this question and more. At the end of the article, we list 78 very popular Christmas songs along with their public domain status.
What is Public Domain?
Public domain is a term for songs where legal copyright protections have expired and no permission from the owner is required to use the work.
What Makes a Song "in the Public Domain?"
As of January 1, 2023, any song published before 1928 is in the public domain and does not require licensing for any use. One exception is sound recordings, where public domain status is handled differently from songs (compositions). All sound recordings published prior to 1923 are now public domain in the United States. Also, publishers often copyright new arrangements of public domain works. Even if the song itself is public domain, if you play from a copyrighted sheet music arrangement, you need permission.
How Can You Know for Sure That a Song Is Public Domain?
The easiest and best way to know for sure whether a song is in the public domain is to submit it to us for a free search. We research the public domain status of the song for you so that you can be one hundred percent certain. If the work is in the public domain, we will tell you and you won't have to get a license. If it is copyrighted, we can help you get the permission you need to distribute your recording legally.
How Can You Research Public Domain Status Yourself?
First, try searching Wikipedia for the song title plus the word "song" at the end. For example, if you want to search the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun", enter the search phrase "Here Comes the Sun Song". This will help you find the Wikipedia song page. There, you can find the year the song was published. If the publication date is before 1928, if the song has no composer, or if it is a folk song, the song is likely in the public domain. If you cannot find the song in Wikipedia, you can also try searching the databases at PDInfo.com, CPDL.org, and cyberhymnal.org. Finally, Google is also a good resource. As long as you can find solid written evidence that the song was published before 1928, you are clear.
What Must You Do if a Song Is Not in the Public Domain?
If you want to record a song that is not public domain you need a mechanical license. A mechanical license allows you to legally distribute your recording of a copyrighted song you did not write (cover song). Reputable manufacturers will require Proof of Licensing before they make your CDs.
How Do You Get a Mechanical License?
We can help you get a mechanical license to record your version of any song legally in 1-2 business days. To start, we simply need some information about your project and about the song you want to use. You can submit that information to us online, or you can call us at 1-800-360-5192.
Do You Need a Mechanical License for Public Domain Songs?
No. You can submit your entire song list to us and we will research the public domain status for you. If we find a song to be in the public domain you will not have to pay anything. If you already purchased your licenses, we will refund the entire amount paid for any public domain songs.
Which Christmas Songs Are in the Public Domain?
Below are three lists. First is a list of 78 Christmas songs along with the year of publication and public domain status. The second list separates out the public domain Christmas songs. The third list shows only the copyrighted Christmas songs that are not in the public domain.
Public Domain Status of 76 Very Popular Christmas Songs
|All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth||1948||©|
|All I Want for Christmas is You||1994||©|
|Angels from the Realms of Glory||1867||PD|
|Angels We Have Heard on High||1700||PD|
|Auld Lang Syne||1711||PD|
|Away In a Manger||1887||PD|
|Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella||1553||PD|
|The Chipmunk Song||1958||©|
|The Christmas Song||1944||©|
|Christmas Time is Here||1965||©|
|Deck the Halls||1800||PD|
|Do You Hear What I Hear||1962||©|
|The First Noel||1833||PD|
|Frosty the Snowman||1950||©|
|God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen||1827||PD|
|Go Tell It on the Mountain||1865||PD|
|Good King Wenceslaus||1853||PD|
|Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer||1979||©|
|Happy Christmas (War is Over)||1971||©|
|Hark, the Herald Angels Sing||1840||PD|
|Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas||1943||©|
|Here Comes Santa Claus||1947||©|
|Here We Come A-Caroling||1850||PD|
|The Holly and the Ivy||1871||PD|
|Holly Jolly Christmas||1965||©|
|Home For The Holidays||1954||©|
|I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day||1872||PD|
|I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus||1952||©|
|I Saw Three Ships||1833||PD|
|I'll Be Home for Christmas||1943||©|
|In the Bleak Midwinter||Traditional||PD|
|It Came Upon the Midnight Clear||1850||PD|
|It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas||1951||©|
|Jingle Bell Rock||1957||©|
|Jolly Old St. Nicholas||1870||PD|
|Joy to the World||1836||PD|
|Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!||1945||©|
|The Little Drummer Boy||1955||©|
|Little Saint Nick||1963||©|
|Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming||1559||PD|
|Merry Christmas Darling||1970||©|
|The Most Wonderful Time of The Year||1963||©|
|O Christmas Tree||1800||PD|
|O Come All Ye Faithful||1751||PD|
|O Come, O Come, Emanuel||Traditional||PD|
|O Holy Night||1847||PD|
|O Little Town of Bethlehem||1868||PD|
|Once in Royal David's City||Traditional||PD|
|Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree||1958||©|
|Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer||1939||©|
|Run Rudolph Run||1958||©|
|Santa Claus Is Coming To Town||1934||©|
|Step Into Christmas||1973||©|
|The Twelve Days of Christmas||1500||PD|
|Up on the Housetop||1870||PD|
|The Wassail Song||1600||PD|
|We Need A Little Christmas||1966||©|
|We Three Kings||1857||PD|
|We Wish You a Merry Christmas||1500||PD|
|What Child is This?||1865||PD|
|While Shepherds Watched||1728||PD|
38 Public Domain Christmas Songs
|Angels from the Realms of Glory||1867|
|Angels We Have Heard on High||1700|
|Auld Lang Syne||1711|
|Away In a Manger||1887|
|Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella||1553|
|Deck the Halls||1800|
|The First Noel||1833|
|God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen||1827|
|Go Tell It on the Mountain||1865|
|Good King Wenceslaus||1853|
|Hark, the Herald Angels Sing||1840|
|Here We Come A-Caroling||1850|
|The Holly and the Ivy||1871|
|I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day||1872|
|I Saw Three Ships||1833|
|In the Bleak Midwinter||Traditional|
|It Came Upon the Midnight Clear||1850|
|Jolly Old St. Nicholas||1870|
|Joy to the World||1836|
|Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming||1559|
|O Christmas Tree||1800|
|O Come All Ye Faithful||1751|
|O Come, O Come, Emanuel||Traditional|
|O Holy Night||1847|
|O Little Town of Bethlehem||1868|
|Once in Royal David's City||Traditional|
|The Twelve Days of Christmas||1500|
|Up on the Housetop||1870|
|The Wassail Song||1600|
|We Three Kings||1857|
|We Wish You a Merry Christmas||1500|
|What Child is This?||1865|
|While Shepherds Watched||1728|
38 Copyrighted Christmas Songs
|All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth||©1948|
|All I Want for Christmas is You||©1994|
|The Chipmunk Song||©1958|
|The Christmas Song||©1944|
|Christmas Time is Here||©1965|
|The Christmas Waltz||©1954|
|Do You Hear What I Hear||©1962|
|Frosty the Snowman||©1950|
|Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer||©1979|
|Happy Christmas (War is Over)||©1971|
|Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas||©1943|
|Here Comes Santa Claus||©1947|
|Holly Jolly Christmas||©1965|
|Home For The Holidays||©1954|
|I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus||©1952|
|I'll Be Home for Christmas||©1943|
|It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas||©1951|
|Jingle Bell Rock||©1957|
|Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!||©1945|
|The Little Drummer Boy||©1955|
|Little Saint Nick||©1963|
|Merry Christmas Darling||©1970|
|The Most Wonderful Time of The Year||©1963|
|Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree||©1958|
|Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer||©1939|
|Run Rudolph Run||©1958|
|Santa Claus Is Coming To Town||©1934|
|Step Into Christmas||©1973|
|The Little Drummer Boy||©1955|
|We Need A Little Christmas||©1966|
PD Info's list of public domain Christmas songs
Another list like ours by our friends at PD Info, the industry leaders in public domain.
Wikipedia's list of Christmas carols
You'll need to check the dates on this list yourself. Any song published before 1928 is in the public domain.
Wikipedia's list of Christmas hit singles
You'll have to check PD status on this list yourself. Click the song title to get an accurate first year the song was published.
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