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Q: Is the song, "I wonder" sung by Cecil Gant in the Public Domain? ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Is the song, "I wonder" sung by Cecil Gant in the Public Domain?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Music
Asked by: boohabinks-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 23 Nov 2005 20:34 PST
Expires: 23 Dec 2005 20:34 PST
Question ID: 596976
I am interested in using the song "I Wonder" in a short independant
documentary I am making.  I found it on a site called "Public Domain
4U" and on as well.  It is written by Cecil Gant and Raymond Leveen.
However I am not sure of its status  becuase it was released in the 1940s.  
From what I've read, only songs  from 1922 and before are in the public domain.  
However, Cecil Gant died in 1951 and I read that copyright expires 50
years after the death of the author of the song.  I don't know when Raymond Leveen
died.  I am quite confused to find citations like this:

I Wonder
Written by Cecil Gant & Raymond Leveen
(c) 1944 MCA Music Publishing,
a division of MCA, Inc. (ASCAP)

and also to see it on public domain sites.

Please help me find a final answer to this question. 


Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 23 Nov 2005 20:55 PST

I have an answer at the ready that I'm 90-95% certain of.

But not 100%!

Since you asked not only for an answer, but a FINAL answer, I just
wanted to check in and see if a 95% certain answer was going to do the
trick for you.

Let me know what you think.


P.S.  And the answer is....It's copyrighted!

Clarification of Question by boohabinks-ga on 23 Nov 2005 21:41 PST
I would like to know 100% because I'm confused about why this song is
listed on and the site These sites got
my hopes up and make me think there is a real chance it could be in
the public domain.  I wonder if the song writers died in the 1950's
and failed to renew the copyright or something and then ended up on
the public domain site.  Just try and provide a conclusive answer that
is backed up so to give me no hope that I can use this song for free. 
 If you can tell me who I have to pay or how much then I think that
would be proof that it is copyrighted. Don't worry-- I will pay you
for your answer.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 24 Nov 2005 05:39 PST
The plot thickens!

When you say you want to use "I wonder", what, exactly, do you mean?

Is there a particular recording of the song that you've found and want
to use?  If so, can you direct me to the exact source?

I did not see it listed on, by the way.

If you're planning your own recording of the song, please let me know that as well.

The reason for this, is that it seems that "I Wonder" is, in fact,
copyrighted, but it's copyrighted as a "derivative work".

That is, it's not the original Gant and Leveen sheet music that is
copyrighted -- that may well be in the public domain.  Instead, MCA
holds a copyright for a particular arrangement of the song.

However, it's confusing to me that the copyright date that is cited
(on the link you provided) is shown as 1944 -- that doesn't jive with
the records I've reviewed thus far.

From what I can see, thought, you cannot use the MCA version of "I
Wonder", but you *may* be able to use the original music.

Let me know what you hope to do with this particular piece of music,
and I'll see what more I can find out.


Clarification of Question by boohabinks-ga on 24 Nov 2005 06:25 PST
This is the particular recording I would like to use:



From Public Domain 4U:

I'm sure they are one and the same.  It is the original 1944 recording
by Cecil Gant.

I would like to use this song in a scene of a film.  It is a "no
budget" film.  I will however be entering my movie into film festivals
around the world and I must have cleared copyright for all the songs I
use.  This is last one on my list!

It would be simple to just find a new song but if you have listened to
it, you know (if you like blues) how wonderful this song is and I
really want to use it in a particular part of my film.  Finding it on
these public domain sites really got my hopes up and I even edited the
song into the film already (of course I will change it if I get a
final answer that says it is copyrighted).

What a think plot it is!!!  Thanks for your help and I look forward to your reply!
Subject: Re: Is the song, "I wonder" sung by Cecil Gant in the Public Domain?
Answered By: hummer-ga on 24 Nov 2005 10:15 PST
Hi  boohabinks,

At first glance, "I Wonder" is in the Public Domain because, according
to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Sound recordings fixed before February
15, 1972, are not eligible for federal copyright protection".

Sound Recordings 
"Reproductions of sound recordings usually contain two different types
of creative works: the underlying musical, dramatic, or literary work
that is being performed or read and the fixation of the actual sounds
embodying the performance or reading. For protection of the underlying
musical or literary work embodied in a recording, it is not necessary
that a copyright notice covering this material appear on the
phonograph records or tapes on which the recording is reproduced. As
noted above, a special notice is required for protection of the
recording of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds that were
fixed on or after February 15, 1972. Sound recordings fixed before
February 15, 1972, are not eligible for federal copyright protection.
The Sound Recording Act of 1971, the present copyright law, and the
Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 cannot be applied or be
construed to provide any retroactive protection for sound recordings
fixed before February 15, 1972. Such works, however, may be protected
by various state laws or doctrines of common law."

However, life is never simple especially concerning copyright issues,
and I suggest you read the following articles before deciding how to

Sound Recording Rule of Thumb:
There are NO sound recordings in the Public Domain.

Who Owns Pre-1972 Sound Recordings?

New York - Common Law Copyright Protects 50-Year Old Sound Recordings
"Even though sound recordings were ineligible for federal copyright
protection prior to 1972, New York has ruled that they are protected
by New York's common law:
The state's highest court ruled common law in New York "protects
ownership interests in sound recordings made before 1972 that are not
covered by the federal copyright act."

So, the most prudent course of action would be to get in touch with
MCA Music (which is now Universal Music).

Who to contact:
MCA Music Publishing is renamed Universal Music Publishing.

"If you would like to obtain rights to use a song or lyrics from a
song that is administered or published by Universal Music Publishing
Group you may contact UMPG?s Film & TV Licensing department at:
Telephone: 310/235-4721
Fax:  310 /235-4905
Website: or

This has been very interesting to research and I hope I've been able
to help you move forward. If you have any questions, please post a
clarification request and wait for me to respond before closing/rating
my answer.

Thank you,

Google Search Terms Used: mca copyright "sound recordings" "cecil
gant" "pre-1972" public domain
Subject: Re: Is the song, "I wonder" sung by Cecil Gant in the Public Domain?
From: brix24-ga on 24 Nov 2005 11:56 PST
There was an article in the October 16, 2005, NY Times on "clearance
costs" for using snippets of copyrighted material. You may wish to
read it for background information if you need to negotiate use of
copyrighted music. The cost may  depend on what you are going to do
with the documentary.

The article is free if you subscribe to the NY Times; otherwise, there
is a cost. There used to be, and probably still is, a way to buy just
one article.

Here is a quote from the article:

"Today, anyone armed with a video camera and movie-editing software
can make a documentary. But can everyone afford to make it legally?

Clearance costs -- licensing fees paid to copyright holders for
permission to use material like music, archival photographs and film
and news clips -- can send expenses for filmmakers soaring into the
hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jonathan Caouette's ''Tarnation,''
for instance -- a portrait of a young man's relationship with his
mentally ill mother that Mr. Caouette edited at home, on a laptop
computer -- was widely reported to have cost $218. In fact, after a
distributor picked up ''Tarnation,'' improved the quality with
post-production editing and cleared music rights, the real cost came
to more than $460,000. Clearance expenses were about half the total."

Here is a link leading to the article:

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