Public Domain

From HymnWiki
(Redirected from Public domain)
Jump to: navigation, search

Purpose of This Article

The purpose of this page is to help users of HymnWiki identify which items are in the public domain. This is not for people desiring to protect their own works (this is to help us know what is not protected). This should not be taken for official or legal advice.


  • This term refers to works which have expired or non-existing copyrights. Essentially, this means that people can do what they want with the work without permission, and without breaking any laws.

Which Hymns Are Public Domain?

  • Generally, a hymn is in the public domain if it was published on or before 1922.
  • If a work was published before 1964 and the copyright was not renewed, then it is public domain. (There is a good chance the copyright was not renewed for many of these.)
  • If a hymnal was published before 1 January 1978 without a legal copyright notice, it is possibly considered public domain (see the bullets below for more information).
    • Note that contributions to collective works need not have the notice to retain the copyright if the collection itself has the copyright notice (however, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, for the works at hand, "If the owner of the collective work is not the same as the owner of an individual contribution that does not bear its own notice, the contribution is considered to bear an erroneous notice.")[1].
      • Note also that future editions of compilations need not have the same copyright tag (they are required to have the year and name or something like that.[2]). So, this is really only useful for first editions, unless you're an expert on all the editions before the one at hand.
  • Items published after 1 March 1989 do not need this notice to retain a copyright.
  • Items published between 1 January 1978 and 1 March 1989 without the notice may or may not have had their copyrights restored (depending on whether the omission was fixed). Be 100% sure you have the rights to do so before posting anything.
  • Any modern hymn specifically placed into the public domain by the copyright holder (i.e. if the copyright holder gives the public permission to do whatever they want with the hymn, indefinitely, without restrictions).


  • Be extremely careful with anything published after 1922. Some hymnals have altered public domain hymns without mentioning that they've been altered, and thus, they may own some rights to them. Ask for permission unless you are entirely certain every part of it is public domain.

Safe Guidelines Checklist

  • Published on or before 1922 and you know the publication (in fact, it's best if you have the publication).
  • You Have permission to post it on HymnWiki from the copyright holder (and you state that you have permission on HymnWiki; make sure to find out what the owner is willing to let the public do with the piece).
  • It's a traditional song (even then you should get a publication source).

What is an official copyright notice?

  • First note that these are not required on modern works for the copyright to be retained, though this is still required for several works published before 1 March 1989 (and it seems all sheet music published before 1 January 1978).

The appropriate symbol, word or abbreviation along with the year of first publication and the name of the owner of the copyright (this name may be an abbreviation or an alternate designation of the owner).

  • this symbol: ©
  • this word: Copyright
  • this abbreviation of the above word: Copr.


  • © 1955 Johnathan Smith
  • Copyright 1955 John Smith
  • Copr. 1955 J. H. Smith

HymnWiki Notes

  • Unless otherwise noted, content labeled public domain on this website only refers to public domain content in the United States, with the exception being that the creator of the work released it to the public domain generally. Works in other countries may have different copyright laws.
  • If an item says it is public domain under a sheet music heading, this refers to the file as well as what it represents (i.e. the score). If you only wish to say that the score is public domain (and not necessarily the file), please specify this under the tune and/or lyrics headings.
    • Please specify the license of any files you upload.


  1. (see Visually Perceptible Copies and Contributions to Collective Works)
  2. (See Use of the Copyright Notice - last paragraph)