A national anthem is a hymn or song expressing patriotic sentiment, from prayers for a monarch, to allusions to nationally important uprisings, to expressions of national feeling. It is usually recognised by a nation’s government as the official national song, though it often emerges by convention through use by the people. “Kimigayo” is the Japanese national anthem, and its lyrics are the oldest text of a national anthem in the world, dating from an anonymous ninth century poem (though the anthem was not formally legislatively established until 1999). The oldest musical setting of an anthem still in use is the “Wilhelmus“, the Dutch national anthem (an early version of which is pictured above left). It was written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule; and, although it was the de facto Dutch anthem for almost four centuries thereafter, it was only officially adopted in 1932.
Given their antiquity, there can be no copyright issues with the Japanese or Dutch anthems. The Irish national anthem, on the other hand, is a different story. In my previous two posts (here and here), I sought to unravel the fascinating but tangled story of its copyright, some of which I discussed on the Marian Finucane show on RTE Radio 1 last Sunday morning (listen here) and on The Last Word with Matt Cooper on TodayFM on Monday evening (listen here). The immediate context of those discussions was Senator Mark Daly‘s National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2016 (effectively reviving a Bill that he had introduced into the last Seanad earlier in the year).
The chorus of “The Solider’s Song” (composed in 1907; words by Peadar Kearney (1883-1942); music by Patrick Heeney (1881-1911)) was formally adopted as the national anthem in 1926. By the end of the 1930s, the chorus of the Irish language translation “Amhrán na bhFiann” (words by Liam Ó Rinn (1886-1943), set to the Heeney’s music) eclipsed the English language version, and has now completely taken over as the national anthem in popular usage, though it seems never to have been formally adopted by the State. In my previous two posts (here and here), I explored the copyright history of all these versions of the anthem. The stories are tangled, but the position is now quite clear. After two deals – in 1933 and 1965 – the State owned the copyright in the music and English language version (“The Soldier’s Song”) of the national anthem, and this copyright persisted until 1 January 2013. If, as seems likely, Ó Rinn was an employee of the State when he composed “Amhrán na bhFiann”, then the State owned copyright in it until 1 January 1974. If, however, Ó Rinn was not an employee of the State at that stage, then his copyright in it will have persisted until 1 January 2014. Hence, all copyrights in the national anthem have now come to an end. Senator Daly’s Bill would revive at least some of them; and, in this post, I want to explain why I think that this is a thoroughly bad idea. (more…)