What is public domain music? Where to download free music

Learn what public domain music is, find out where to safely download music in the public domain, and discover where else to download free music.

Lewis Foster
Image to accompany article explaining what public domain music is and where creators can download public domain music for

Searching for music to use in your videos? Your dream scenario is finding a free soundtrack to use however you like. Which is exactly what public domain music promises, free tracks without restrictions. It almost sounds too good to be true!

Many creators find searching for public domain music is trickier than it seems. First you need to find public domain tracks you can download. Then you have to double-check you can safely use the music without asking permission from a rightsholder. And that’s before you even consider whether the music works for your content.

All this means that from the thousands of free public domain tracks in the world, very few are actually going to be right for your project. Which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you understand the complexities of public domain music and find your ideal soundtrack for free.

What is public domain music?

Image showing different aspects of public domain music, like sheet music and recording copyright, and highlighting how it can be a complex subject for creators.

In simple terms, public domain music is music that is not protected by copyright. This means anyone can use it without asking permission or paying music royalties. But how does music become public domain, and when does it enter this free realm?

There are different ways music can become public domain, which you can learn about below. But things get tricky when you consider the different factors that can affect how freely available public domain music is. To keep yourself completely safe, there are a couple of questions you’ll want to ask yourself.

When and where was the music created?

Music most commonly enters the public domain a certain number of years after the composer’s death. But exactly how many years depends on different factors, including when the music was created or which country it was made in. You’ll want to double-check the music you’re using has become public domain in the country it was created in.

Is the music completely free from copyright?

To make matters even more complicated, there are different types of music copyright law protecting both the composition and the recording. So for music to be in the public domain, there needs to be no copyright protection for either the composition or the recording. If you want to learn more about music copyright, read our in-depth article on copyright-free music.


TL;DR - Public domain music refers to any track that isn’t protected by copyright law. This means you are free to use them in your content without any payment or risk of legal issues.

When does music become public domain?

Music becomes public domain when it isn’t protected by copyright law. You’re most likely to hear about music becoming public domain when the copyright expires, but there are actually three different ways it can happen:

  1. The copyright expires. Music will enter the public domain a certain number of years after the creator has died or once all other applicable copyright has expired.

This most commonly happens when the copyright expires 70 years after the creator of the music dies. But as with everything to do with public domain music, this depends on which country the music was created in.

  1. The creator puts the work into the public domain. Artists can share their music through schemes like Creative Commons or by directly offering their music for people to use as they wish.

Some musicians allow you to use their music without restrictions through a Creative Commons license. If they make their tracks available with a CC0 license, they’re essentially putting their music in the public domain.

  1. The works predated intellectual property. This means the music never had copyright applied in the first place, so can be used freely in your videos.

Just because one version of a song is public domain doesn’t mean every version is. For example, some of Mozart’s masterpieces are in the public domain because the composition predates copyright, but modern recordings of them aren’t.

Is public domain music free to download?

Music in the public domain should be free to download, for the simple reason that the copyright doesn’t belong to anyone. But confusingly, there are situations where you would need to pay royalties to use public domain music. Specifically if either the recording or composition is protected by copyright.

Take for example The House of the Rising Sun, which is a traditional folk song no-one owns the composition copyright to. Despite this song being in the public domain, you would need to pay royalties to use the popular version released by The Animals in 1964, as this recording is protected by copyright.

So whenever you download public domain music, you need to check both the recording and composition are in the public domain. Otherwise you run the risk of copyright issues.

The pros and cons of using public domain music

A creator thinking about using public domain music in their video and considering different aspects of downloading it, including the time and money it takes to find tracks.

If you’re searching for public domain music, you’re likely to be looking for free background music to use in your videos. But scouring the internet for public domain music might not be the best way to find your next soundtrack. Especially as it might still land you with a copyright claim.

Before you spend time searching for tracks you can use, take a look at some of the pros and cons of downloading public domain music.

🫶 Pros:

Public domain music is free to use. Because no-one owns the rights, there’s no-one you need to pay for permission to use public domain tracks.

You can legally use public domain music however you want. As long as the music you use is in the public domain, you are free to use a track in your videos.

🙅 Cons:

You might still get fraudulent copyright claims. Fraudsters often target public domain music with false copyright claims on YouTube. You should be able to appeal these claims, but it’s added hassle you don’t need.

It’s difficult to find public domain music. There’s no central library of public domain music to explore. So finding tracks you can safely add to your edit involves searching across lots of different websites.

You need to make sure the tracks you use are actually in the public domain. Just because a website says a track is in the public domain doesn’t mean it necessarily is. To avoid any copyright issues, you’ll need to double-check music is safe to use.

You have fewer options with public domain music. Remember, you need to find music that doesn’t have copyright protection on either the recording or the composition. Which is why it’s not surprising the tracks you’re left with don’t leave you with much choice.

Searching for public domain music takes time. Hunting for websites offering downloadable public domain music is time-consuming on its own. But searching for tracks you can actually use in your project will take even more time out of your schedule!

The quality of public domain music is often poor. You’re either looking at very old recordings made with ancient equipment or music people are willing to give away. In either case, it isn’t going to match up to other music you can find.

Where to download public domain music for your content

Example of a search bar where a creator has typed in 'where can I download public domain music?'

The promise of free music you can use in your videos is tempting for content creators. We’ve gone into the downsides of hunting for public domain music, but if you want to take the risk, we’ve listed out the four best public domain music libraries. 

The 4 best public domain music sites

  1. PD Info

PD Info provides invaluable information about public domain music and a large list of sheet music you can use, as opposed to music you can download for your videos. You’re better off using this as a resource to point you towards versions you can find elsewhere.

  1. Open Music Archive

The Open Music Archive has a library of public domain music, although you’ll find it has a limited selection to choose from. Plus, navigating the site isn’t straightforward, which makes finding the right track time-consuming.

  1. FreePD

FreePD is a collection of over 3,000 tracks that artists have made available to download for free under a Creative Commons license. You can browse through a limited number of different genres and listen to individual tracks before you download them.

  1. Musopen

Musopen offers an extensive collection of public domain classical music, all available under a Creative Commons license. As you can probably guess, there isn’t much variety if you’re after anything other than classical music.

Those are just four of the many websites claiming to offer public domain music. But you’ll find the music quality can often be a bit hit and miss, and you’ll still risk the possibility of receiving copyright claims. Which is why browsing a library of copyright-free music like Uppbeat is such an attractive alternative when searching for high quality free music.

Uppbeat: The free and safe alternative to public domain music

Just like public domain music, you can use Uppbeat’s music in your video content and start downloading awesome tracks for free. But when it comes to finding your ideal soundtrack, Uppbeat makes your life easier with its extensive catalog of copyright-free music designed especially for creators like you.

You can pin down the perfect mood or genre with ease using Uppbeat’s intuitive homepage and search function. Or see how the AI Playlist Generator creates a custom playlist of potential soundtracks in a matter of seconds. Try it out for yourself by creating a free account and kiss goodbye to the endless hunt for usable public domain music by signing up to Uppbeat.

Find free music that’s safe to use in your videos

Image of a creator looking at the Uppbeat catalog of copyright-free music and considering downloading tracks as an alternative to searching for public domain music.

Plenty of creators have found the public domain to be a rich source of free music for their videos. If you can navigate the legal complications and find tracks that are completely free of copyright, there’s nothing stopping you from using public domain music in your videos.

The problem is that finding good quality public domain music is difficult and you’ll still run the risk of getting copyright claims. So if you want to find your next soundtrack the easy way, head to Uppbeat and explore an extensive catalog of the best copyright-free music. You can find your perfect sound in seconds and start downloading tracks for free.

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