Public Domain

Copyright in a song expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the last surviving author dies. A song which is no longer protected by copyright is described as being Public Domain (PD).

Where words and music have been written separately, it is probable that independent copyright exists in the words and in the music. This means the words will become PD 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author of the words dies, and the music will become PD 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the music composer dies.

Once a song is PD, it may be freely adapted, arranged and translated. Where significant changes have been made to the original song, the adaptor of the PD song may claim a new copyright in that adaptation. Always check that both the words and the music of the song you wish to use are PD, and that neither the words nor the music are an adaptation/arrangement of a PD song in which the adaptor claims a new copyright.

A separate typography right exists in publications (such as hymnbooks) which lasts 25 years from the date the edition was first published. This means you cannot photocopy any songs (including PD songs) from the songbook without the relevant permission.
To photocopy a song from a hymnbook, you need to check that copyright in the words, the music and the typography have expired, or that you have permission to reproduce those parts which are still in copyright.

The duration of copyright in films is 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film.

Sound Recording, broadcasts and cable programme works are protected for 50 years.