Collaborating with Public Domain Authors

Posted on April 2, 2008

"Public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. This body of information and creativity is considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which, in general, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes." (Definition from Wikipedia)

Since anyone may use or promote public domain works, songwriters have tremendous freedom to revise, add, deduct, changing the lyrics, keeping the original music, setting old lyrics to new music, adding new verses or choruses, even combining two public domain songs. Of course, adaptations aren't limited to hymns or songs. Writers may want set a poem or prose to original music, or even base on a song on a literary work or story.

What are some of the publishing and copyright dynamics when adapting or using ancient traditional creative works, such as hymns, that are in the public domain?