The Holly and the IP

By Brand Heeler

Another festive take on intellectual property rights

To cynical observers like us, the festive season may hold few surprises – the same old songs, the same old traditions, the same old advertising campaigns… And that’s precisely why we love it so much: it’s a beacon of consistency and reliability in a fast-moving, uncertain world. So imagine our astonishment to learn something new about Christmas, something which has shaken our understanding of this festival to the core: much as it shames us to admit it, it turns out we’ve been infringing intellectual property rights ever since we were Third Sheep from the Left in our first Nativity play!

Like the vast majority of Christmas carols, The Twelve Days of Christmas was originally a traditional folk song, but the current ‘standard’ version – with the list of gifts in their familiar order and the flourish on ‘Five Go-old Rings!’ – dates only from the 20th century. It was composed in 1909 by Frederic Austin, an English musician of some renown, who lived until 1952. Since copyright in an original musical composition lasts for 70 years after the composer’s death, no one’s free to sing Austin’s version without permission until after 2022 – we’ve been breaking the law all this time!

Much as we revere and respect all forms of IP, we’d like to think Austin’s estate would embrace the spirit of peace and goodwill and not enforce their rights officiously. It would be a strange start to Christmas if wassailers across the land had to fall silent mid-verse for fear of a writ!

A Happy Christmas to all our readers, and we wish you a prosperous New Year.

This article contains our thoughts and opinions on an issue of general interest and is written from the perspective of Australian and/or English law. It is not legal advice and is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship. It may not even be relevant to your jurisdiction. No duty of care is assumed or accepted. Please carry out appropriate research and consult with a suitably qualified legal expert before taking any action or making any decisions.