Have a Holly Jolly Christmas – as long as you have received permission or licensed Christmas songs prior to using them.
As December rolls around, Christmas tunes begin to dominate the charts as loved ones commemorate the joyous holiday season. From traditional classics such as ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ from Frank Sinatra to modern hits like ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey, popular Christmas tracks such as these have enjoyed countless covers from fans and artists alike.
However, many are unaware of the copyright laws surrounding these well-known songs. Due to the widespread use and distribution, most assume Christmas songs can be reproduced freely. This is false – while some Christmas songs are in the public domain, many other tracks such as Carey’s hit ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You,’ are copyrighted and will require licensing from third parties with intent to utilize the track.
Want to cover a Christmas song? You’re in the right place – this is how Christmas song licensing operates.
More about copyright protection.
Public Domain Christmas Songs
A song enters the public domain when its copyright protection becomes invalid. When copyright protection is voided, a song can be used and distributed by the public and will no longer belong to the artist or the rights holder of the song.
A song loses copyright protection after a certain number of years depending on copyright law in its governing jurisdiction. Most commonly, copyright is no longer enforced once the song has been created and registered after 50 to 90 years.
To determine if a song has entered a public domain, its publishing date will be a strong indicator of its status as a public domain song. Google databases, Wikipedia and public domain music databases will have the necessary information to determine if a song can be used and distributed freely.
A few popular Christmas tunes in the public domain are ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Joy to The World’ and ‘Deck the Halls’ – there is no need to obtain a license to cover these songs, so sing away!
Non-Domain Christmas Songs
Here comes the tricky part – many popular songs are not in the public domain despite many believing so due to the immense popularity of these tracks. When the song is played in public everywhere, it must be free for all to use, recreate and sample, right?
Proper licensing must be obtained prior to using these Christmas songs. Depending on the type of use, various forms of licensing are available for third parties such as public performance license, master license, print license, mechanical license, theatrical license and more. Under certain circumstances, royalties must also be paid to the rightful owner.
The best way to determine the copyright owner of a song is to contact its publisher according to online databases.
Want to be surprised? Here is a list of songs not in the public domain: ‘Feliz Navidad’ by Jose Feliciano, ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ by Johnny Marks and ‘Frosty the Snowman’ Steve Nelson and Walter E. Ronalds.
Need help with licensing a song? Enjoy your ho- ho- ho-lidays and let us get to work for you.