Old Lady who swallowed a fly

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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susand
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Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

I want to make a picture book of this poem. (probably not for sale, just for friends) Do I need copyright permission? I'm in Canada.
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AndyJ
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by AndyJ »

Hi susand,

Although at least one source* says that the poem is traditional, most acknowledge that the author of the best known version of the lyrics is Rose Bonne. Having only done a very quick search, I can't find out much about her but it appears she is still alive. Since I assume that you would want to quote the words in full to accompany your illustrations, I think you need to get permission from the author. Obviously if you only distributed your book among close friends it is unlikely that the author would ever get to know about your version, but since there is always a slight chance of someone who gets a copy putting it online somewhere, you might face a claim for infringement at some later stage.

It would seem that one of her publishers is Fox Chapel Publishing, so that would seem a good starting place to ask for permission. Here's a link to a recent book of the story by Rose Bonne, with illustrations by Edward Miller.

*eg Hoosier Folklore published in 1947.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
susand
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

thank you. I was going to change the words a bit, but just because I want to, not to avoid infringement.
Nick Cooper
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by Nick Cooper »

There was an earlier version published in December 1947 in the US magazine Hoosier Folklore. However, the Manchester Evening News of 15 February 1946 has a piece alluding to it as a "modern nursery rhyme," so obviously it was circulating on both sides of the Atlantic at the time.
susand
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

Fox Chapel publishing got back to me, and said no, but there have been a number of different variations and songs published. So, I don't quite understand how an Ed Miller has the copyright, unless he bought it from Rose Bonne when he published his book.
susand
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

I went to the copyright clearance centre and they directed me the Indiana University Press, who has rights to the poem published in 1947, so I sent them a query. Hopefully they'll be able to help. There's more than one way to skin a cat, even if you don't swallow it.
susand
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

Indiana University press got back to me, and it looks like I'm good to go. Thanks for your help. This is a great site.
susand
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by susand »

Back to square one. Fox Chapel does own the rights. I don't understand this at all. Could arbitrarily pick a nursery rhyme and copyright it?
Nick Cooper
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Re: Old Lady who swallowed a fly

Post by Nick Cooper »

susand wrote: Mon May 03, 2021 2:03 pm Back to square one. Fox Chapel does own the rights. I don't understand this at all. Could arbitrarily pick a nursery rhyme and copyright it?
Unfortunately, in many cases, that's just what happened, and in fact continues to happen. Someone takes a "traditional" rhyme, makes their own changes to it, and then publishes it under a new copyright. The problems arises when there is one such rendition that becomes massively more popular/well-known, this overshadowing all previous or other versions.

We only have to consider Baby Shark to know that this sort of thing is still going on. In simple terms, Baby Shark was originally a camp fire song about a shark attack, which was quite gory, but in 2011 entertainer Johnny Only developed a version about a family unit of sharks, to moderate success. Five years later, South Korean educational company Pinkfong did exactly the same thing, to massive success. Pinkfong claim they came up with the idea themselves, but there seme to be a lot more similarities between their's and Only's versions than can be passed off as mere coincidence. I would strongly suspect that Pinbkfong's team did in fact copy Only in the mistaken belief that his version was merely the traditional one, when in fact it was substantially different, and thus protected. A court case is currently ongoing.

In the case of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, it is notable that there are numerous existing modern picture books of it, credited to a variety of authors. It might be worthwhile checking out the copyright claims of some of these, as well as how they differ from the "definitive" Bonne version.
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