Use chart-topping music in your spots--free!

(As long as it was composed before 1923.)

Cadillac used Led Zep's "Rock and Roll." Mercedes couldn't resist Janice Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" despite the lyrics. Quaker has "Heart and Soul," Heinz ketchup went with "Anticipation" and Microsoft launched Windows 95 with the Stones' "Start Me Up."

Chart-topping songs are extremely effective at getting awareness and recall and establishing a personality for the message – and, if chosen well, for the brand being advertised.

But what if you can't write a really big check for the right to use a chart-topper? No problem. Use a golden oldie. A real oldie. Something from before 1923.

Public domain music can work almost as effectively as current #1 tunes, and it's free. Anyone can use it.

In 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act stretched copyright protection to the life of the author plus 70 years, or to the earlier of 120 years after the date of creation or 95 years after publication for works with corporate authorship. (That is, works whose original copyright was owned by a corporation because they were created as "works for hire" by staff or contract creators.)

The law applies to any works which was copyright-protected in 1998. If the copyright had expired in 1997, the work remained in the public domain. Since all copyrighted materials got a 20-year extension, no new songs (or other copyrighted material) will come into public domain until 2019.

We recently used a public domain song, "There'll Be Some Changes Made," in a TV spot and a pair of radio commercials for a weight-loss center. This piece illustrates some key points in using public domain music. Read more here.