NOTE: This article refers to only public domain works of the United States.


Works are considered in the public domain when they are no longer protected by copyright law, either due to the copyright expiring, the rightsholder placing it in the public domain, or the works themselves pre-dating the existence of copyrights.  


Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, because it is “owned” by the public.

Crediting the original/traditional composer of a public domain work

It is not mandatory in the music industry to attribute the original composer of a work in the public domain.

Registering your own arrangement of a public domain work

If you are registering your own arrangement of a work in the public domain, you can register the work with the original composer name (no writer IPI is needed) and credit yourself as an arranger.

  • If the original author is unknown, you do not need to enter a composer - just enter the arranger (you).


Royalties with a U.S. public domain work

No one can claim ownership of a song in the United States public domain; therefore, public domain songs can be freely used with no fees or royalties paid to anyone. So, as long as you have the sole right to collect for your original work, you will be able to collect your total share without having to credit the traditional composer.