Yo Ho Ho! The buried treasure (public domain) awaits you!

Ahoy mateys! You’ll never believe it! As I was digging through general copyright research, I came across something that will (maybe) change your life! And no, it’s not loot, but it’s just as exciting! It’s called the public domain!

‘What are these strange waters you speak of?’ you might ponder.


There once was a creator. She wrote the catchiest music that ears have ever heard. And because her work fit the criteria for copyright (it was unique and in a permanent form), she enjoyed great success and recognition for her tunes throughout her life.

Sadly many years later, she passed away after a wonderful, fulfilling, long life of being recognized for her creative genius.

But the story does not end here.

Although she was gone, her creative work lived on.  For another 50 years after the December 31 of the year she died, her heirs reaped the benefits of her work.

After those 50 years had passed, it was time for her work to reach another stage in its seemingly endless life. It entered the public domain. Now, her work was free to be listened to, played, used, copied, and altered by all those who came after her. Her work had the possibility of becoming and doing anything beyond her wildest dreams!

Now imagine thousands of other creative works that have passed their copyright terms and have entered the public domain. It’s like a collection of historical greatness and inspiration all available to freely be unburied by us!

And you don’t need to sail far away or even get out of your chair to unearth these treasures! In fact, OIMA welcomes music from the public domain! And there are other great sites that offer music in the public domain too (but some may include copyrighted content  as well). I’ll navigate you to some great places to start your digging: 

·         International Music Score Library Project

·         Musopen

·         ChoralWiki

And since you may have passions other than music, there are lots of sites that offer other public domain treasures, like these:

·         Project Gutenberg

·         Europeana

·         The Public Domain Review

But a word of warning: it is best not to assume something is in the public domain just because it seems like it should be. For example, different countries have different rules (like in the United States, the term usually extends 70 years past the year of death). The websites I have listed come from all over the world, so, to ensure something is considered in the public domain here in Canada, I suggest a quick online search to see if it is.

Likewise, not all content follows the 50 years after death term in Canada. For example, performers have a copyright term of 50 years from the date the work was fixed (recorded). There are many other exceptions that might extend or shorten the copyright terms of works. But don’t let these exceptions steer you away! As mentioned before, just do a quick search of the content you’re interested in and you can most often find out if it’s available in Canada’s public domain.

Without further ado, let’s pull out our spyglasses and start searching for those public domain treasures! All hands ahoy!

P.S. Although pirate talk is a perfectly legal pastime, pirating copyrighted work certainly isn’t. That’s why the public domain is such a great resource – we can enjoy treasures from the past while still encouraging creators to keep making treasures for our future!  

Image: Howard Pyle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Although it offers an assortment of copyrighted materials too, Wikimedia Commons is another great resource to find things from the public domain!

My Weekly OIMA Pick:

Silent Night – Neeraj Prem (Sitar)

This is such a beautiful and unique take on the original Silent Night song! By the way, the original composition is in the public domain now, but this wonderful version belongs to Neeraj Prem.