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What Mickey Mouse can teach about music for your sports routine.

Every year, copyrighted works enter the public domain as their US copyright expires, freeing them up to be used by anyone, without permission. On January 1st 2024 the original drawn representation of one the most famous characters in history became public domain - none other than Mickey Mouse!



This is because US copyright law protects works until the end of the 75th year in which they were first copyrighted - and Mickey (and Minnie) made their public debut in Steamboat Willie in 1928.


Copyright exists to protect the original author from un-approved uses of their work.


Mickey's look has changed throughout the decades, and you can bet your house on the fact that Disney's army of lawyers will be ready to challenge anyone who uses anything other than this original incarnation of the founding character of the House of Mouse!


Music Copyright in the US

Music is also subject to similar protection as Disney's characters. If you've been following our blogs you will know that music copyrights, however, are split into two 'sides' - the composition (lyrics, melody that constitute the 'song') and the sound recording (of a particular performance of that song by a recording artist).


These copyrights are treated differently under US copyright law - and as you will see from the diagram below and the list related to sound recordings, as the importance of copyright has grown over the years, lawyers have been busy increasing these limits to maximise protection for their clients:


Musical compositions - by date of publication:



Sound recordings - by date of publication:

Pre-1924

Through December 31, 2021

1924 - 1946

100 years from publication

1947 - 1956

110 years from publication

1957 - February 14, 1972

Through February 15, 2067

February 15 ,1972 - December 31 1977

95 years from publication.

January 1 1978 onwards.

Life of the author + 70 years. For works of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.


Takeaways:

In the same way as with Disney's characters, music is protected by copyright law in the US (and worldwide, with different expiration dates).


This is even further complicated:

  • On the one hand, during some of the periods mentioned above, copyright had to be registered and carry notices to proclaim its copyrighted status, and so it is possible that some works accidentally entered the public domain.

  • On the other hand, music publishers (representing songwriters) and record labels (representing songwriters) have had re-arrangements or re-records made in order to kick the expiration of copyright in the works even further into the future. This can lead to the earlier versions being taken down from music streaming sites so that the 'in-copyright' version is used (so royalties can be collected) rather than the public domain version.


So a lot of research is needed to be able to state with any certainty that any work or recording published after the early 1920's is in the public domain.


But one thing is for certain - in the same way Disney's lawyers will protect their characters against unauthorised use, music industry lawyers will protect their clients songs and recordings!


So make sure you are 100% CERTAIN that any music you use in your routine has been properly licensed, from both the copyright holder of the recording, and all the songwriters.


Which is where, of course, ClicknClear comes in!

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