by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
I was recently asked by a reader:
If I obtain music which is certified public domain in the USA, does this follow through to Australia?
Most likely yes. Public domain works are those in which no copyright is asserted. You can do whatever you like with public domain material (well, so long as it doesn't annoy the neighbours too much).
Music becomes public domain after the term of its copyright expires, which is why no royalties are paid nowadays for classical music (although a particular recording or transcription of classical music can still hold its own copyright). Music can also be placed immediately into the public domain by those who composed and performed it. I am guessing that this is the situation with the music you are referring to.
If an artist agrees to put something into the public domain then that applies worldwide unless they state otherwise. However, although possible in theory, it's impractical for them to try to release their music to the public domain only of a particular country such as the USA, because it is impossible to prevent others in the USA from distributing the material elsewhere.