When I started covering 19th century songs it was because I had to go back that far to find compositions which are truly in the public domain. Here’s a concrete example of why I had to go back even before the 1920s, when blues, jazz and country popped into existence.
Sita Sings the Blues is an independently produced film which used some 1920s recordings on the soundtrack. Those recordings are now in the public domain in the US, but not the compositions. To license the compositions would cost $220,000.
“Sita Sings the Blues” includes 11 songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw in 1927-1929. The recordings themselves are not protected by Federal Copyright. The underlying compositions are. So we (my sales rep’s law firm, to whom I now owe additional thousands of dollars) approached the so-called music publishers to negotiate rights. After all demanded $500 per song to permit the film to play at festivals (for which I make no money and am in debt), here’s what they “estimate” for me to legally sell DVDs:
$15,000 to $26,000 per song.
I have added a link to Question Copyright .org to the sidebar of this blog.