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Public Domain songs

Hey guys, I hope this place is not as dead as Eddie Murphy’s career, but I am going to try anyway.

Can any of you shed a light on how I can know which songs are on public domain or not? I am not an expert in copyright law, but I have read somewhere that songs become public domain once 50 years pass from the death of the artist in question. Anybody know how much truth there is to this? Does that mean I have every right to use a Buddy Holly or Richie Valens song for one of my shorts without paying a single cent?

Your input would be appreciated.

In the U.S. it’s 70 years after an artists death or anything released before 1922. I think there’s some exceptions, though. Some artists have just lifted the copyright themselves or put it into their will that it becomes Public Domain when they die. No idea how to find a list of what’s public and what isn’t though.

The thing about copyright though, is all of Mozart’s discography would be public domain now. But you can’t just use a symphony off a CD because the specific recording on those CDs are copyright.