34. Do I need permission to create an arrangement or use an arrangement of a public domain work?
In the United States, works that were first published in 1922 or earlier are in the public domain. This means their term of copyright has expired and they are no longer under copyright protection in the U.S. Popular works that are in the public domain in the U.S. include Amazing Grace and Blessed Assurance. When a work enters the public domain, it is free for anyone to create new, unique arrangements of these works (e.g. SATB or a string quartet arrangement). They may also create new works based on the original work such as Chris Tomlin's The Wonderful Cross, which borrows from Sir Isaac Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Another example of using a public domain work to create a new work is Passion's recorded version of Elvina Hall's Jesus Paid It All, with additional chorus by Alex Nifong.
Arrangements and new works based on public domain works are new copyrights in the eyes of the law and are afforded all forms of protection as any copyright would. Please note that creating new works based on works administered by Music Services which are still under their original term of copyright, or adding to a work administered by Music Services which is still under its original term of copyright, is strictly prohibited.
When making an online request on our site, you will notice many listings of works whose original setting is in the public domain. These individual works are specific, copyrighted arrangements of works in the public domain. By requesting a license for one of these particular arrangements, you have indicated to us that you are using that specific arrangement. If you are using a work in the public domain as it was originally written, then you do not need to obtain a license or pay royalties.
To investigate whether or not a work is in the public domain, check first for a copyright notice. These can be found in the liner notes of CDs or at the bottom of the first printed page of each song in most song books. Online sources such as CCLI, Public Domain Information Project, All Music, and search engines such as Google are also helpful in determining if a work as it was first written is in the public domain.