Christmas Songs in the Public Domain: Do You Need a License to Sing?


Everyone knows that the fastest way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear, right? Maybe not. Before you go blasting that Christmas music this season, take a minute to think about who owns the rights to the music and how you are performing. Unless the song is in the public domain, you may actually need a license in order to play or perform that song, so be careful! A public performance is defined as a performance that occurs either in a public place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family or social acquaintances). A public performance is transmitted to the public, for example, radio or TV broadcasts, and via the Internet. A license would also be required when music is used as part of training seminars, conventions, or other commercial or business presentations, with the exception of use by non-profits. So if you’re doing caroling in the mall or another public venue, take a look at the lists below to determine whether you need to purchase a license in advance.

It probably comes as no surprise that some of the most iconic songs are in the public domain because they have been around for hundreds of years. For example, the following songs are fair game to sing at the top of your lungs and get yourself in the Christmas spirit:

  • “Jingle Bells"

  • “Deck the Halls”

  • “Away in A Manger”

  • “Joy to the World”

  • “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”

  • “O Holy Night”

  • “Silent Night”

  • “Up on the Housetop”

  • “What Child is This”

But don’t belt out these classics without securing a license in advance, as they are still protected by copyright:

  • “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (Donald Yetter Gardner)

  • “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (Noel Regney, Gloria Shayne Baker)

  • “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)

  • “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (Johnny Marks)

  • “Carol Of The Bells” (Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich, lyrics only)

Happy holidays!


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