Public Domain vs. Copyrighted Christmas Songs

Every year about this time we start to get questions regarding holiday music. Planning Christmas programs can be stressful, and knowing which Christmas songs are copyrighted and which are public domain can complicate matters. Public domain songs are those you can use without the need to obtain permissions, pay royalties, or credit 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.

So how do you know the difference? Aren’t most Christmas songs in the public domain? The answer – while there are those you can use freely; many Christmas songs, carols, and hymns are copyrighted and owned by secular music publishers. The commonly held misconception that all Christmas songs, carols, and hymns are available for use without permission could prove costly for churches.

Want to test your knowledge? Just for fun, take a 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? Angels We Have Heard on High, Away in a Manger, Deck the Halls, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Jingle Bells, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Silent Night, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen  are all in the public domain – meaning you are free to use without obtaining permission. However, if you plan in performing, playing or streaming Frosty the Snowman, Feliz Navidad, Do You Hear What I Hear?, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, First Noel, Little Drummer Boy, or Carol of the Bells  you definitely want to look into music licensing.

We’ve got two great resources to help you navigate these songs.  For a complete listing, download our two fact sheets, Copyrighted Christmas Songs, and Public Domain Christmas Songs, from our online Learning Center. If you have any questions please call us at 877-394-5566 or chat with a live copyright expert online.

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, as well as representation, administration, and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.  The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.