I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - copyright question

Copyright matters affecting music and musicians.
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PeterMillett
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I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - copyright question

Post by PeterMillett » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:40 pm

Hi there

I've seen many different versions of 'I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly' over the past few years. (Kids books, music CDs etc)

As far as I can tell this piece of work is still under copyright:

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Written by Alan Mills, lyrics by Rose Bonne, Copyright: ©1952 Peer International (Canada)Ltd. SOCAN.


The composer Alan Mills passed away in 1977 and Rose Bonne's passed away in 1979.

(I'm assuming they are the original creators as opposed to them just popularising an existing work by an unknown author.)

Books like this are common place:
http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/the ... wed-a-rose

In fact whole series of books have been created based upon the original song.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how this is possible? I would have thought that the song/lyrics would not be available for usage until at least another decade from now.

Cheers

Pete

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Sun Aug 06, 2017 7:29 am

Hi Peter,

As you say, there seems to be little doubt about the copyright status of the song, even if the lyrics might have been based on some earlier, anonymous folk song, although I have found no evidence of this.

But other than assuming that the publishers of the various spin-offs have obtained permission to use the words, I can offer no simple explanation for the widespread exploitation of the song. The fact that many American (and other) artists have covered the song can be explained by the fact that under US copyright law (section 114(b) of the Copyright Act 1976) it is legal to make an imitative copy (aka a cover version) of a sound recording without the need for permission from the owner of the copyright in the sound recording. The author of the song is still entitled to royalties arising from the new recording. The effect of this is that record companies who are generally resourced and motivated to protect copyright at all times, being the owners of copyright in a recording, are effectively excluded from cases where cover versions are made, leaving it up to the individual author to decide whether or not to fight every instance of use of their lyrics without permission.

Thus, as with songs such as 'Happy Birthday', the widespread informal performance of a song can have the effect of undermining the copyright, because it is virtually impossible, or too expensive, for the copyright owner to pursue every alleged infringement. Alternaively, the copyright owner may be satisfied with the amount of royalties generated by the legitimate use of their work so as not to be too bothered about the unauthorised use, so long as the latter doesn't get out of hand.
Last edited by AndyJ on Sat Oct 07, 2017 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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PeterMillett
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Cheers

Post by PeterMillett » Sun Aug 06, 2017 9:36 am

Thanks Andy.

As always that's a superb reply! Perfect.

Cheers

Pete

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