Nursery rhymes

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Nursery rhymes

Post by Gowie77 »


I am writing an educational book for children and wanted to use a few mother goose nursery rhymes in it. I know I can use the old nursery rhymes as they are in the public domain but am I allowed to use the newer version of an old nursery rhyme in my book?

For example the old version of baa baa black sheep goes;

Bah, Bah a black Sheep, have you any Wool?
Yes merry have I, three Bags full,
One for my master, One for my Dame,
One for the little Boy That lives down the lane.

But the new version goes;

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
One for the master, one for the dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

So can I use the newer version in my book I am writing and still avoid copyright issues? Or must I stick with the original version and wording?


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Post by AndyJ »

Hi John
The difference between the first and second versions which you quote is pretty insignificant and so I very much doubt that the latter would qualify for copyright, as the changes lack any originality, and anyone trying to make a claim of infringment would be likely to fail at the first hurdle due to being unable to prove they had any rights over the work.
I don't know if it is your intention to draw attention to the changes in your book, which some have argued result from political correctness, but if so then I think this would further strengthen your position because to do so would undoubtedly amount to literary criticism, which comes under the fair dealing exemption:
30 Criticism, review and news reporting.
(1) Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement and provided that the work has been made available to the public.

Assuming that the other rhymes you would like to use have been subjected to a broadly similar trivial amount of change, you should be on firm ground.
If you are aware of the authors of the later versions, it might be good manners to cite them, but otherwise the attribution 'Anon' - referring to the traditional source - would be entirely justified.
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
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