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As a follow-up on Copyright of children's folklore songs, artist A wants to use the melody of "Five little ducks". The song is not on the list of public domain songs. A sound recording of the melody and the score are on Wikipedia; the lyrics and an animated video are on a US government website. Even so, Artist A cannot find author or date information.

How can artist A assess whether a melody such as this one is copyrighted or in the public domain?

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In the US, the artist can get the US Copyright office to search its records for any indication of the copyright holder. An hourly fee is changed by the office for this.

A search of newspaper archives for mentions of the song might be helpful. A stretch through old music books, sch as those held by Google Books, might reveal a copyright notice.

Project Gutenberg publishes copies of the US renewal registrations but not, (as far as I know), the original registrations. If a work was published in the US prior to 1964, and was not renewed, it is now in the public domain. (The 1976 Copyright act made renewal automatic for works published in 1964 and later.)

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    Because the work is from before 1978, a paid search is required: only post-1978 registrations are online.
    – user6726
    Nov 1 '20 at 18:12
  • Project Gutenberg publishes copies of the renewal registrations (but not, as far as I) know. the original registrations. Nov 1 '20 at 18:22

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