The Musical Public Domain in 2022

Thursday, January 20, 2022

What do the composers Arnold Schönberg, Armin Knab, and Camillo de Nardis have in common? They all died in 1951, so their music entered the public domain in the European Union on January 1, 2022.

This means that they, and others who died the same year, died long enough ago that copyright protection has expired for their works and there is no law prohibiting the use, reuse, publishing, or otherwise building upon their creative ideas. Since copyright varies by country, national laws dictate what has entered the public domain. Throughout most of Europe and in other countries where copyright expires after the death of the author plus 70 years, composers who died in 1951 are now in the public domain in those countries. Note that this refers to a composer’s music, and other elements of any given creative work, such as the lyrics to a song, may still be under copyright.

The United States is different: in the US, anything published in 1926 or before is in the public domain there, regardless of date of death. This might lead to potential confusion if a digitized score is found on an American website, even though the composer’s works are still under copyright in the European Union. It is important to be aware of and respect copyright laws, even in the digital environment.

Regardless of location, this all means that libraries and archives have a new slate of composers whose works they can scan and add to their digital collections.

In 2022, we welcome these 53 composers with sources in RISM to the public domain in the EU. If we find out about initiatives to digitize their works, we will of course link to the digital copies in the RISM records. The table can also be viewed and downloaded here.

Further resources on works in the public domain:

Image: Man Ray, Portrait of Arnold Schönberg, 1927. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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All news posts are by RISM Editorial Center staff unless otherwise noted. Reuse of RISM’s own texts is permitted under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. In all other cases, please contact the individual author.