How Movies Can Use Certain Christmas Songs for Free

Edward Vega of Vox spoke with film and television composer Russ Howard III to explain how music licensing works in Christmas-themed movies. The pair discuss which songs are now in the public domain and which aren’t, and how that status affects the bottom line of a production.

Christmas movies are full of the classic songs we know and love — that also happen to be free from copyright and free from expensive licensing fees. …But public domain Christmas songs also hold a unique charm. Their repeated presence over the years has woven them into the very fabric of the holiday season, creating a sense of shared joy and nostalgia.

Howard also talked about using public domains Christmas songs as jumping-off points.

He explains that musicians will often use public domain Christmas songs as a starting point for creating original compositions. Taking cues from classics like “Deck the Halls,” they craft new pieces that fit seamlessly into the emotional beats of a scene, while still having a festive flair.

Public Domain Xmas Songs
Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.