Public Domain and Copyright

Further to Simon’s recent post on the possible establishment of a “public domain” registry/database: I think this is great news if it happens. I have been quite silent as a SLAW poster due to research I am conducting on early Canadian ragtime sheet music (circa 1899-1920) and have been trying to assess the possible public domain status of several pieces of sheet music. The US has a relatively simply rule (roughly, anything before 1923 is public domain, although the rule is not that simple). My limited understanding of the Canadian rule is that the Canadian rule depends on the status, pre-1923, of the Canadian copyright. I won’t continue to emphasize my ignorance of this topic by saying anymore other than saying that any method that makes Canadian public domain material more accessible is welcome. As part of my recent research, I came across the following site from Cornell that appears to be a nice summary of US public domain “law” (I assume the page is accurate, given its provenance) – see:

By the way: I may have caused a minor stir in the (extrmely narrow) world of ragtime music in “discovering” a previously unknown ragtime song by Joseph Lamb written under the pseudonym “Harry Moore” during the time Lamb was resident in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, circa 1901-1905. The research was very satisfying and only made realistic by the availability of Internet-based resources, including research found in a 1977 thesis on ProQuest Digital Dissertations (licensed by U of T) and the Library and Archives Canada catalogue and “Sheet Music from Canada’s Past“. But I digress . . . .


  1. Cool, Ted. Any links to free MP3s of ragtime? Would there be a “lawyer’s rag” by any chance? Or better: “The Legal Librarian’s Rag.” It has a lilt to the title, at least.

  2. Try Robert Higdon according to Scott Joplin: A Guide to Research, edited by Nancy R Ping-Robbins, Guy Marco at 269

  3. I don’t want to take SLAW off topic here but is does involve lawyers and issues of public domain, so . . . .

    David Lee is mentioned in the “ragtime” entry to the (online) The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada as being a lawyer from Dundas, Ontario, who has composed a number of rags published by his own company, Dun-Val Music as part of the ragtime revival (i.e., his rags were written in the 1970’s). I have been able to identify 12 rags composed by Lee, listed below, but they have been difficult to source (with the only source I have found so far being a folio of David Lee rags held by the Hamilton Public Library in Ontario, for which I had placed an interlibrary loan several weeks ago; it is yet to arrive).

    Using an “advanced search” in the AMICUS catalogue at Library and Archives Canada, you can generate lists of any .MP3s typing in “.mp3” in an “any keywords” field and then adding desired keywords to the title or into other fields. To generate sheet music online, I use the same technique, using “http” in “any keyword” and then “rag” or other keywords in the title. The best online site for public domain sheet music, a lot of which is ragtime, is the Sheet Music Consortium at:

    Set out below are links to some public domain ragtime era MP3s from Canada:

    Vera Guilaroff, Maple Leaf Rag (Lachine, QC: Compo Company Limited, 1926):

    Harry Thomas, A Classical Spasm (Camden, NJ: Victor, 1917):

    Willie Eckstein, Turkey in the Straw (Lachine, QC: Compo Company Limited, 1923):

    Geoffrey O’Hara singing the Canadian wartime patriotic song Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill (by Gitz Rice), with Willie Eckstein on piano (Montreal, QC: Berliner Gram-O-Phone Co., 1919):

    The Dumbells, “The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind” (Montreal, QC: Compo Company, 1924):

  4. Thanks for sharing what you’ve been up to, Ted! Very interesting.