Deck the Halls…. Legally!

Believe it or Not

Do you enjoy singing during the holidays? Has your video performance of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree or another holiday favourite gone viral on social media? If so, should you have any worries about copyright?

Some sure bets

You don’t have to worry about traditional songs like Deck the Halls and Silent Night. The general rule is that copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death. So, if you will be doing an a capella version of a traditional holiday song composed by someone who died more than a century ago, there’s no risk of a lawsuit! However, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, for example, was written in 1958, so the copyright is still in effect.

The musical arrangement also matters!

Even if the author of the song died more than 70 years ago, you must still be careful about the musical arrangement you’re using. You won’t run any risk if you sing Jingle Bells without musical accompaniment and post the video online. But using the musical arrangement of an artist who died less than 70 years ago could lead to problems because the copyright is still in effect.

So, if you will be using musical arrangements in a video you’ll be posting online, you should keep this in mind and opt for those that are royalty-free. For example, use songs made by artists who died more than 70 years ago, or music released for free use by artists who have waived their copyright.

How about contemporary songs?

Karl Tremblay of Les Cowboys Fringants died last month. Perhaps you’d like to remember him by singing one of his hits at your holiday concert. The idea is great, but to do this legally, you’d have to pay to use the song due to copyright. Artists are often members of organizations responsible for handling such requests. If the artist is not a member of such an organization, you’d have to get the artist’s agreement to use the song. 

Of course, in the privacy of your own home, no one (except possibly family members or neighbours) will stop you from belting out your favourite songs, whether new or old. It’s all part of the holiday spirit!