Today is World Intellectual Property day, the day on which the World Intellectual Property Organization would like public awareness of IP to be heightened. It is not, perhaps, the most exciting of international days of observance, but is a fitting one on which to explain the title to this blog.
This is not exclusively, or even primarily, an IP blog, though as a former full-time IP/IT lawyer it strays into that territory from time to time. The title of the blog, however, does relate to IP law and arises out of an anecdote of my late father’s.
My grandfather, Bryan MacMahon, was a school teacher, writer and balladmaker. He spent a lot of time travelling the country to collect ballads that might otherwise be lost and composed ballads of his own.
Given the place of oral tradition in the world of ballads, it sometimes happened that ballad singers would lose track of who wrote a particular ballad and they might be designated “Anon” or “Traditional”. The balladmaker with an eye on his IP would, of course, make it known publicly that the ballad in question was not traditional or of anonymous origin, but his or her own copyright.
Sometimes, however, there was a conscious effort to “forget” the original balladmaker and a balladsinger might claim something as his own. One such episode of forgetfulness became known to my father and resulted in the following cease and desist poem:
FOR A PLAGIARIST.
Some men take your character,
Some men filch your purse,
But a bard who steals a dead man’s verse
Is a thief who is far, far worse.
You stole pennies from a dead man’s eyes,
As mean as I ever saw,
And if you try it once again,
You’ll get a clatter of the law!
Upon hearing this, the alleged infringer exclaimed delight and requested ten copies.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann have an excellent new online archive, launched recently, which includes interviews with Bryan MacMahon about ballads (eg. “What’s a ballad?” and “Ballad competitions“) and recordings of Garry McMahon (eg. “Thousands are sailing to America” and “Yorkshire Pigs“).