Public Domain vs. Copyrighted Christmas Songs

October 14, 2021

Free Guides to Help You Plan

Is it too early to start planning for Christmas? When it comes to copyright clearance – definitely not! It’s about this time every year that we start getting questions from churches about what licensing, if any, is needed to use Christmas music during programs and special events. And while there are many songs you absolutely can use freely; many other Christmas songs, carols, and hymns are copyrighted and require permission. 

Now, we know planning Christmas programs can get a little stressful. But we don’t think choosing your music should be. To help guide you in that process we’ve put together some great resources. Our two guides, Copyrighted Christmas Songs and Public Domain Christmas Songs help identify the difference between public domain and copyrighted Christmas songs and explain how performance licenses provide tremendous freedom to play and perform music legally this Christmas.

Public Domain vs. Copyrighted 

So, what’s the difference? It’s a commonly held misconception that all Christmas music is available for use without permission. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.  

You can use public domain songs without obtaining permission, paying royalties, or crediting the original author. However, this does NOT apply to copyrighted arrangements of a song in the public domain. Songs that are copyrighted will require permission, licensing, or exemptions.  

Just for fun – want to test your Christmas music knowledge? Look at the list below and see if you know which songs are in the public domain and which require licensing:   

Angels We Have Heard on High   

Away in a Manger   

Frosty the Snowman   

Deck the Halls   

Hark the Herald Angels Sing   

Feliz Navidad   

Do You Hear What I Hear?  

O Come, O Come Emmanuel   

Jingle Bells   

Santa Claus is Coming to Town   

Silent Night   

First Noel   

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen   

Little Drummer Boy   

Carol of the Bells   

How do you think you did? Download CCS’s Christmas Fact Sheets to find out!

Songs that are copyrighted will require permission, licensing, or exemptions. Learn how blanket performance licensing can ease your licensing concerns.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Youtube. The information contained here is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. 

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