Which popular tunes from kids' songs are copyrighted?

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Which popular tunes from kids' songs are copyrighted?

Post by georgeblack »

I'm producing some educational songs for kids. Many of them will have my own lyrics but I want to use or adapt some popular tunes to make them more relatable.

The bit that's confusing me is that many songs seem to share the same tune, for example the tune from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star can be heard in a huge number of made-up songs, so while I can probably find out which lyrics are copyrighted, finding the copyright on tunes is proving more difficult.

Any advice would be much appreciated.
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi george,

I don't think there's a simple answer to your problem. Each tune or melody will have a different provenance and would need to be researched individually. Many will no doubt be attributed to that well known composer Anon.

However to take the example you mention, Wikipedia says the following:
"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is a popular English lullaby. The lyrics are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, "The Star". The poem, which is in couplet form, was first published in 1806 in Rhymes for the Nursery, a collection of poems by Taylor and her sister Ann. It is sung to the tune of the French melody Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, which was published in 1761 and later arranged by several composers including Mozart with Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman".
The composer of Ah! vous dirai-je, maman is not known but since the work was published in 1761, I think we can safely assume he or she is now dead and the melody is out of copyright, assuming it was ever in copyright in the UK (the Berne Convention of 1886 was the first international treaty to establish mutual recognition of the copyright of other nations).

Wikipedia has entries for many other nursery rhymes and popular tunes, so that may be a good place to start, bearing in mind the usual caveats about the reliability of Wikipedia entries alone. I would suggest using the articles to find the scholarly or other sources they cite, and use the latter to establish the true provenance of the melodies you are interested in. In the case of the French tune Ah! vous dirai-je, maman the citation is <a href="istserv.bccls.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0112B&L=OPERA-L&D=1&P=78015&F=P">this</a> written by Bob Kosovsky, who is or was Librarian of the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Where you are sure that a composer is anonymous, then the rule of thumb (see Section 12(3) et seq CDPA 1988) is to take the date the music was first published and if this was before 1 Jan 1947 (ie over 70 years ago), then you can assume the work is out of copyright in the UK. However beware that newer arrangements of old melodies may still be protected by a later copyright.
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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