Anything with a copyright date of 1922 or earlier legally has no owner and is in the public domain. If you're a musician, cover that song. If you're a paid blogger, plaster that picture wherever you'd like in your work. For the most part, that is. This is something we bloggers have to work with here.
That being said, all sound recordings in the United States are said to be under copyright protection until February 15, 2067, small print aside. So, completely royalty-free music does not exist in the United States right now. Songs either have to be attributed and paid for, or just covered and properly distributed, etc.
If a song has a copyright date of before 1922, it can be covered then distributed at your own free will, but other recordings of the song cannot and must be licensed, as they are still under copyright law. This was decided as constitutional in the early 2000s, right as the Internet was being used by more people to share and develop creative works.
Creative Commons was developed around this time as an organization resolved to making more media available to be shared and developed. Music under a Creative Commons license can be more flexibly shared, or free with citation. Wikipedia functions under one of these licenses.
Since the Pazz and Jop polls were recently released, and for independent music worldwide and variety's sake, here are a few of the newest and most popular Creative Commons-licensed downloads via Bandcamp.
Roll the Bones, Shakey Graves This nice folk outfit hailing from Austin, Texas is one of this week's top sellers on Bandcamp. Their full album is streaming here.
How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose, Courtney Barnett A stoned Camera Obscura-esque outfit, this won my own poll of Bandcamp's recent staff picks. Australian-born Courtney Barnett's record translates well as both ambience and music for silent driving.
Beacons, Cloudkicker This was released in 2010, but it has been posted on Bandcamp as one of the "most recommended" albums. Here we have an erratic instrumental download comparable to Link Wray's guitar fuzz, if he produced progressive metalscapes.
List continues on the next page.
Girl EP, Olive Drab Released in October 2012, this track was "recently recommended" as a top download, and serves as a ubiquitous indie-rock choice.
Self Trait, Curtis Clark These tracks were released last week. Clark's improvisational piano style recalls Duke Ellington's understated fervor, making a relaxing martini-lounge atmosphere.
MF DOOM, RHYMES LIKE DIMES This is actually off MF Doom's debut album from 2008 but is listed as trending on SoundCloud, so I'm posting it here, like buttery biscuits.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.