Public Domain Works advises users on the copyright status of a particular track to encourage creators and entrepreneurs to build on cultural history.

Let’s say you want to use, sample or reissue a particular track, whether its Elvis, Elgar or Elmore Judd. Reusing even a fraction of a copyright-protected track (without the express permission of the rightsholder) leaves you liable for copyright infringement. At the very least, rights holders can restrain distribution of further copies of the infringing work, or they could sue you for damages.

So before reusing tracks in your documentary or mixtape, its best to be aware of the copyright status of the different works embodied in your chosen track. If the track is public domain then you are free to reuse as you jolly well like – without asking permission from anyone. If its protected, then you should identify the rights holder and ask permission before you reuse.

The tool is only at the alpha stage so far, which means it needs a lot of work before its full launch. The dataset (i.e. tracks which users can query) is limited, the supporting literature is scarce and its largely untested. We are however very excited to improve the tool in collaboration with users, so please leave comments on the blog, email us with bugs and get in touch via the Participate page if you want to get more involved.