Ricochet wrote:Robert Johnson's songs are NOT in the public domain. They've been very aggressively defended against copyright violations. Most of the other old blues numbers, and indeed most songs from the 20th Century, are still under copyright. Due to some quirks of fate and copyright law, Happy Birthday/Good Morning To You, originally written in 1893, remains under copyright. Most anything older than that I think can be safely assumed not to be, in the U.S.
Actually, Robert Johnson's works became public domain in 2008!! According to Wikipedia's Questions and Answers:
Q: Why Robert Johnson is not in public domain?
A: Upon a songwriter's death, copyright ownership passes to his heirs, so Johnson's work was the property of his half sister, as he did properly copyright the songs while living. However, 2008 is the 70th anniversary of his death, and according to copyright law, the copyright expires 70 years after the artist's death, so wait a month and they will be public domain.
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_Robert_Jo ... lic_domain
Copyright laws vary between countries, and thus a work may be in the public domain in one country, but still be copyrighted in another country. There are international treaties such as the Berne Convention that set some minimum standards, but individual countries are free to go beyond these minimums. A general rule of thumb is that if the creator of a work has been dead for more than 70 years, his works are in the public domain in the country the creator was a citizen of and in the country where the work was first published. If the work is anonymous or a collaborative work (e.g. an encyclopedia), it is typically in the public domain 70 years after the date of the first publication.
Many countries use such a copyright term of 70 years. A notable exception is the U.S. Due to historical circumstances, the U.S. has more complex rules. In the United States, copyright generally lasts:
for works first published before 1978: until 95 years after the first publication, and
for works first published 1978 or later: until 70 years after the author's death, or for anonymous works or work made for hire, until the shorter of 95 years since the first publication or 120 years since the creation of the work.
Works published before 1923 are in the public domain.
For works created before 1978 but only published 1978 or later, there are some special rules. These terms apply in the U.S. also for foreign works.
Also from Wikipedia:
Anything published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain. Anything published before January 1, 1964 and not renewed is in the public domain. Anything published before March 1, 1989 with no copyright notice ("Â©", "Copyright" or "Copr.") plus the year of publication (may be omitted in some cases) plus the copyright owner (or pseudonym) is in the public domain.
Or you can look at it this way ... going by the 95 years after the first publication, since it is now 2009, anything prior to 1914 is public domain.