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Roger Clarke's Waltzing Matilda Copyright Information

Copyright in 'Waltzing Matilda'

Roger Clarke

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1995-2001

Revision of 20 May 2001, with major revisions to the information about the three versions of the song, and the copyright aspects

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It is a page within Roger Clarke's Waltzing Matilda site

Copyright is a complicated business at the best of times. Given the complicated and uncertain history of the song, it's no surprise that finding out information about copyright in 'Waltzing Matilda' has been a bit of a nightmare. What I think I've worked out so far is in the following sections:

If there's anything in here you can improve on, please tell me about it.

Copyright in the Words

In 1900, Paterson sold the rights to the original verse, along with a few other pieces, for five quid, to another Australian icon, the publishing house Angus & Robertson. So his reputation gained from it, but hardly his pocket. (Sounds like the squatters won again, right?). The words were printed in A. B. Paterson, 'Saltbush Bill, J.P.' (Sydney 1917),

Paterson died in 1941. In Australia, copyright survives the death of the author for 50 years; so presumably that copyright expired in 1991, and hence the original words would seem to be no longer subject to copyright.

Copyright in the Queensland / Christina Macpherson Tune

It doesn't appear that copyright in Christina Macpherson's tune was originally asserted. If it was, then I think it would exist for 50 years after Christina's death. I'm not sure when she died, but if she was 25 when she wrote it in 1895, and lived to 80, she would have died in 1955, suggesting an expiry date of about 2005.

However, Richard Magoffin says that he "was able to register copyright in the Macpherson music in the U.S.A. Copyright Office 27 March, 1987. These rights, numbered TX 2 034 785, will subsist until 2023". In intellectual property law matters, the U.S. is still what it always was - a renegade nation; and I gather that the 50-year limit has been extended over there.

Copyright in the 'Marie Cowan' Tune

This is important, because this is the version that most people recognise, and that most people play and sign.

(1) The Fundamental Copyright

The copyrights in the song and the words appear to have passed through several hands.

Initially the copyright in at least the music was asserted by Inglis & Co. (Marie Cowan was the wife of the manager, W. Cowan). It may also have been owned by the once-famous Billy Tea' company, who used it in an advertising jingle in the 1930s; or alternatively that company may have simply licensed its use from whoever owned it at the time.

Sheet-music of the 1930s and 1940s carries an assertion that copyright was owned by Allan & Co. Pty Ltd of Melbourne, aka Allans Music. Allans was formed in 1850, but is still active in the music business. (In May 2001, they offered 24 different versions of the sheet-music, for a wide variety of instruments). Their copyright claim appeared to extend to the words as well as the music, which could mean that Angus & Robertson sold the copyright in the words on to Allans sometime between 1900 and c. 1935.

The copyright has presumably expired in Australia (and in almost every other country in the world), because in civilized countries copyright lasts for only 50 years after the death of the originator. Banjo Paterson died in 1941, and Marie Cowan way back in 1919, so these copyrights should have expired in 1991 and 1969 respectively.

(2) Copyright in the U.S.A.

In that maverick nation, the U.S.A., other rules hold, and copyright still appears to exist. It is claimed by Carl Fischer New York Inc, who can be reached by email. The inimitable Richard Magoffin says that "The invalid U.S. copyright in Marie Cowan's 1903 Sydney arrangement, falsely registered as a composition, will expire in 2011".

Because of the Carl Fischer copyright, the use of the Australian tune in the Atlanta Olympics Closing Ceremony resulted in a payment by the Australian organisers to an American company.

Ergo ... If we decide to make 'Waltzing Matilda' the real national anthem, we will have to either negotiate the copyright back from an American company, or pay royalties on such occasion that our national anthem is played in the United States ...

Australians who discover this for the first time tend to say things like "C'mon, you're 'avin' me on! Waddya think this is, bushweek??".

Copyright in the Cloncurry/Buderim Tune

I'm unaware of copyright ever being asserted in that version of the music (and I'm unaware of any transcription or recording of it).

Derivative Copyrights

Copyright can subsist in variants of words or a tune, and in performances of a song. So copyright certainly exists in many recordings of the song. The owners of that copyright do not have to acquire a licence from, or pay royalties to, anyone in Australia for using the words or the tune. And the same goes for performance or publication anywhere else in the world except in the U.S.A. But if they perform, or publish their recording, in the U.S.A., presumably they are supposed to have a licence from Carl Fischer Inc., and probably pay them royalties.


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