Tag: copyright

Do you own your wedding album?

You might think this a silly question. Of course you own your cherished wedding or civil partnership ceremony photographs. But how far does that ownership extend? Do you have the right to make copies of them and, perhaps more importantly, control their use? The short answer, for most couples, is: no.

Section 23 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts 2000 to 2007 sets the default position: the author of a work shall be the owner of copyright in that work. In the case of photographs, section 21(h) provides that the author means the photographer. Accordingly, if your photographer provides you with an  album and nothing more is said or agreed, it is likely that you have merely purchased the services of the photographer in attending the ceremony along with the physical photo album.

Center for Jewish History, NYC
I suspect this couple was not given a CD of their wedding photos.

These days, photographers usually offer additional goods or services. For example, many provide a CD with digital copies of some or all of the photos. Some charge extra for such a CD. This is usually done with the expectation that the customer is entitled to make unlimited copies of these photos, but the agreement is often not explicit on this point. Indeed, many customers will not have a written contract in place with their photographer. If the customer is provided with a set of terms and conditions, perhaps on the invoice, this will probably form that contract.

If a photographer provides a CD of digital photos with the right to make copies, this might not permit further dealing with the photos, such as the right to upload them to Pix.ie or Facebook, for example, or to apply effects so that the photo could be printed on canvas in the style of a painting.

An important consequence of the photographer retaining copyright in the photos is that (s)he benefits from the rights of the copyright owner set out in Part II Chapter 4 of the Acts, specifically the right of the photographer to make his/her own use of the photos. I have come across a number of incidents where a recently married couple was surprised to find photos of their wedding displayed on the photographer’s website, magazine ads or even at wedding fairs (in one such case, the bride had not yet seen her own wedding photos when she saw them displayed at a wedding fair).

At this point first ownership of copyright in photos clashes with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. A photograph of individuals is personal data for the purposes of the Acts and generally should not be displayed publicly by another person without the consent of the people depicted in the photo. A photographer’s terms and conditions might include such consent, but any such consent can only be given by the customers (the couple) and cannot apply to guests. [See also the comments below concerning the right to privacy contained in section 114 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts.]

Section 22A of the Data Protection Acts provides a limited exemption in the case of journalistic or artistic use of personal data but it is hard to see how a photographer could establish that publication of private photos was a matter of public interest (except perhaps in the case of celebrities, an area which itself is fraught with legal claims).

It is possible to agree with the photographer that copyright in all photos shall be assigned (ie. transferred) to the customer. Any such agreement must be in writing. However, most photographers will either be unwilling to agree to assignment or will charge an additional fee (which might be substantial).

As with anything, it is advisable to discuss with a photographer what exactly is being provided. The photographer should be asked if they retain copyright or assign it, and if they retain it reach explicit agreement on:

  1. what is the customer permitted to do with the photos provided; and
  2. that the photographer will agree not to use the photos in any public way.

Koger v. HWM: significant Irish software case on competing with former employer

This week’s big intellectual property news might have been IRMA v. UPC, but last week saw another major judgment in Irish IP law: on Friday 8 October 2010, Mr. Justice Feeney gave judgment in Koger Inc. & Koger (Dublin) Limited v. O’Donnell, Woolman, Gross & HWM Financial Solutions Limited. The outcome has been described as “a victory for the right of IT employees in Ireland to regard their know how and experience as their own intellectual property.”

The case concerned former employees and contractors of the plaintiffs who set up in competition with them. This can be a fraught area, though of course there is nothing, of itself, wrong or unlawful about competing with a former employer or customer. The most common legal issues that arise in relation to such scenarios involve allegations that (1) the new competitor has breached contractual terms restricting them from such competition, and/or (2) the new competitor has breached the intellectual property rights of the former employer. Koger v. HWM involved such allegations, but it is also of wider relevance to the law on discovery.

All parties to the proceedings are involved in the  transfer agency software market and their customers are major financial services fund managers. The plaintiffs are linked companies marketing one of the leading products in that market. The three individual defendants formerly worked for the plaintiffs, either as employees or contractors, and subsequently set up the fourth defendant company to compete with the plaintiffs.

At the outset of the proceedings, the main case advanced by the plaintiffs was that the defendants developed their ManTra product to compete with the plaintiffs’ NTAS product as a result of a breach of confidence and an infringement of the plaintiffs’ copyright, particularly in their source code and design materials. This suggests a literal copying claim, ie: the defendants must have literally copied some or all of the plaintiffs’ source code and design materials. However, over the course of the proceedings it appears that the plaintiffs were forced to abandon this element of their claim, with their core expert giving evidence that he had never believed literal copying to have taken place.

This was a particularly interesting aspect of the case as, a few months before it went to trial, Mr. Justice Kelly gave judgment on a discovery motion brought by the plaintiffs. Kelly J’s judgment is of interest itself, as it deals with the extent to which a court can limit access to documentation discovered during court proceedings. For the purposes of seeking discovery, the plaintiffs’ experts “expressed the view that the defendants must have relied upon the plaintiffs proprietary source code and database structure information in order to develop the ManTra product” and they provided reports stating that they had discovered instances of literal copying. This allegedly copied code later transpired to have been licensed from third parties and was proprietary to neither side. Indeed, up to the time of the trial one of the plaintiffs’ experts contended that the defendants’ product contained source code from the plaintiffs’ product [Feeney J, para. 22]. However:

As the plaintiffs’ case was presented to the Court it became apparent that the plaintiffs no longer sought to rely on a claim based upon literal copying notwithstanding having claimed that such copying was substantial. [Feeney J, para. 24]

While the case started out, therefore, as being primarily concerned with literal copying of software source code it developed into a claim that the defendants had improperly benefited from their former association with the plaintiffs when setting up in competition. The allegations made by the plaintiff included that the defendants had conspired to set up in competition before they had terminated their involvement with the plaintiffs, that they had set about destroying the plaintiffs’ business and that they conspired to poach the plaintiffs’ staff.

Feeney J. noted that the credibility of witnesses was central to these matters. He found that the defendants’ witnesses were “truthful and reliable … coherent, accurate and credible.”

The evidence of [the defendants’] witnesses stands in sharp contrast with the evidence of [the plaintiffs’ two primary witnesses]. Both those witnesses demonstrated a willingness to provide misleading and unreliable evidence. They were evasive and unreliable in their evidence. Where there is a conflict [in evidence …] the Court favours the accounts given by and on behalf of the defendants. [Feeney J, para.18]

Feeney J also commented:

The manner in which the plaintiffs have prosecuted their claims demonstrates a willingness to alter and vary such claims without explanation. They have proceeded to drop a significant element of their claim, in abandoning the claim based upon E*TAS, without any explanation. Similarly, they have been prepared to persist with claims, such as the claim of literal copying in a material respect notwithstanding that their experts either did not believe that there was such literal copying or had not made the effort or been requested to ascertain and confirm that the common source code identified in the two products emanated from common third party sources. It was not until the very end of the plaintiffs’ case that there was an acknowledgement that the plaintiffs were not pursuing a claim for literal copying. A more troubling matter arose in evidence when it became apparent that the plaintiffs were prepared to plead and swear directly contradictory accounts in respect of the same set of facts in different jurisdictions. This was indicative of an approach whereby the plaintiffs were prepared to use a set of facts in such a manner as to manipulate them for present advantage without regard to the real truth. [Feeney J, para 28]

With regard to discovery, Feeney J characterised the litigation strategy of the plaintiffs as being “to make extensive and general assertions against the defendants and seek to have those parties disprove such matters.” This extended to seeking “further discovery when the discovery which has been obtained does not establish the claim already made”.

In effect, the overall approach to litigation demonstrated by Koger is that in relation to former employees the onus is on them to prove that they have done nothing wrong and that Koger can and will sue those parties to see whether or not discovery might produce the documentation necessary to prove Koger’s case and if the original discovery does not achieve that end, then further and additional discovery will be sought. [Feeney J, para. 31]

In light of the above, it is easy to predict the outcome of the case: all of the plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed. The judgment is long but worth skimming through, given the colourful nature of the proceedings (including Feeney J’s description of the plaintiffs’ manner of running their business and allegations that a death threat was made against one of the defendants’ witnesses when he was an employee of the first plaintiff).

The judgment helps define what is acceptable when a departing employees decide to compete with their former employers. For example, it confirms that embryonic discussions about a potential new business may be acceptable while still employed by another person.

A core argument advanced by the plaintiffs was that it was not credible for the defendants to develop their product so quickly without resort to improper methods. Feeney J found that the individual defendants succeeded in developing their ManTra product quickly as a result of their own significant skill and expertise. While some of that may have been gained while working for the plaintiffs, the defendants did not infringe the plaintiffs’ rights by employing such skill and expertise. An employer can protect their intellectual property rights, but that does not extend to the skill and expertise an employee or contractor might develop while working for that employer.

Strike One?

This week’s big intellectual property news was the judgment of Mr. Justice Charleton in EMI & ors v. UPC. The case was the latest plank in the record industry‘s campaign to force the introduction of a graduated response to online copyright infringement.

Charleton J’s judgment is long and there is a lot to get through.  I haven’t had the opportunity to read the judgement fully but a few highlights already stand out:

  • Evidence was adduced by the plaintiffs to justify claims that many thousands of tracks are illegally downloaded. Justin Mason looks at some of those claims and finds that, by the same logic, an album he invented on the spot has been downloaded 24,752 times. This evidence, which appears to be highly flawed, has already been represented as fact in the Seanad.
  • In 2009 Charleton J granted an order requiring eircom to block access to The Pirate Bay. As noted by TJ McIntyre at the time, the judgment was of limited value as it was not opposed by eircom and was delivered ex tempore. Simon McGarr points out that Charleton J now finds he was incorrect in granting that order. According to his latest judgment:

I regret that my previous judgement in the matter was wrong. The legislative basis enabling me to act in that way does not exist in Irish law as it exists in other European jurisdictions.

  • If eircom had contested that order, Charleton J may have been in a position to reach the decision now indicated in the UPC judgement. It’s an important point, as he also gave judgment clearing data protection concerns raised by the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to the graduated response settlement. That case was similarly unopposed and the Commissioner did not appear due to cost concerns.
  • Charleton J has repeatedly characterised online copyright infringement as theft and anyone engaged in downloading files in breach of copyright to be in the criminal sphere. Eoin O Dell draws attention to interesting posts on the question of whether or not copyright infringement is theft.

Why people care about The Record Industry v. The Customer

Cory Doctorow makes some good points on the use and abuse of copyright law, in response to some pretty churlish criticism recently directed his way. I particularly liked this:

… I don’t care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet, or if you plan on building a business around this idea. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I’ve been surprised before.

But here’s what I do care about. I care if your plan involves using “digital rights management” technologies that prohibit people from opening up and improving their own property; if your plan requires that online services censor their user submissions; if your plan involves disconnecting whole families from the internet because they are accused of infringement; if your plan involves bulk surveillance of the internet to catch infringers, if your plan requires extraordinarily complex legislation to be shoved through parliament without democratic debate; if your plan prohibits me from keeping online videos of my personal life private because you won’t be able to catch infringers if you can’t spy on every video.

Via Adrian Weckler.

Lesser known crimes: do you own that copyright?

The second in my irregular series of lesser known crimes, like the first, relates to unlawfully claiming ownership of an intellectual property right.

Section 141 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 provides:

A person who, for financial gain, makes a claim to enjoy a right under this Part [ie. copyright] which is, and which he or she knows or has reason to believe is, false, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £100,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.

The penalties are far more serious that those applicable to the trade mark offence. It was introduced to the legislation as an amendment proposed by the then Labour Senator Brendan Ryan, who proposed a maximum penalty of £10 million. He saw it as a necessary counterbalance to the “draconian powers” afforded to copyright owners in the legislation.

[T]here is nothing to suggest that a person who, maliciously and for monetary gain, abuses those powers would pay a penalty other than through the civil courts – even that is patchy and requires clarification … if such a scale of unprecedented powers is to be granted, there must be a balanced penalty for abuse of those powers.

Section 141 is the type of offence companies like YouTube are talking about when they say in their copyright notice:

Be aware that there may be adverse legal consequences in your country if you make a false or bad faith allegation of copyright infringement by using this process. Don’t make false claims!

However, the process they refer to is their own notice-and-takedown procedure and the adverse legal consequences under section 141 require that the claim is made for financial gain. I expect that section 141 was envisaged as addressing false claims for damages. While I’m not aware of any prosecutions under section 141,  it is conceivable that someone could gain from having someone’s videos removed from YouTube (eg. if the complainant ran a paid site featuring the same video under licence).

A known unknown in eircom’s “three strikes” system

Adrian Weckler has published a copy of the intended notification to be issued by eircom to its customers when accused of unlawful filesharing by the Irish recording industry (represented by IRMA). It is, as warning letters go, extremely polite.

I mentioned last month that this “three strikes” system agreed between IRMA and eircom was approved by the High Court (for data protection purposes) on the basis that IRMA would not know “that the infringer is a particular person living in a particular place in Ireland”. In fact, Charleton J. said that all IRMA will “know is that a particular IP address has been involved in the downloading.” However, it appears that DtecNet, who will collect IP addresses for IRMA, has the capability to collect more information than just IP addresses. Whether such capabilites are to be used as part of the IRMA/eircom system is not known.

My suspicions were raised by eircom’s statement on their website that IRMA will send notifications to eircom “containing among other things the IP addresses of individuals”. Such suspicions could be unfounded; for example, IRMA might be sending eircom a list of shared files along with the IP addresses and that information might not be personal data.

However, the template letter reproduced by Adrian says:

Some of the details of the notification supplied by IRMA are set out below …

Is it not strange that eircom repeatedly notes that IRMA will be supplying them with more details than are apparently necessary for the purposes of the three strikes system.

What are those details?

Details of eircom’s 3-strikes system, but who will know what?

The graduated response system to tackle unlawful filesharing online, agreed as part of an out-of-court settlement between the Irish recording industry and eircom, was approved by the Irish High Court last month. Mr. Justice Charleton’s judgment concluded that the “parties can … lawfully proceed to implement the settlement”, though his judgment relates only to the specific question of compatibility with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003.

© Time Magazine
Strike 1 to the record industry

eircom has now implemented the graduated response system on a pilot basis and details are available on its website. The FAQs say that IRMA will supply eircom with IP addresses which eircom will match to its customers, who will then receive warnings about alleged unlawful downloading. If warnings are ignored, service may be suspended for 7 days and the customer will not be charged for those 7 days of lost service. On a subsequent alleged infringement, service will be withdrawn for 12 months. If a customer disputes an allegation that their service has been used for unlawful downloading, they can appeal to the eircom, who “will consider all customer appeals on a case by case basis.”

The concerns about graduated response primarily arise out of disconnection on the basis of complaint, rather than court order, and that the sanction affects an entire household, rather than the individual alleged infringer. The latter point has gathered steam as the internet has taken on utility status. IRMA’s attitude to this is clear:

The European Parliament has been talking about internet access as a basic human right. It absolutely is not.

Dick Doyle, IRMA Director General

eircom emphasises that customer data will not be shared by eircom with any other party.

Under no circumstances will eircom be handing over customer details to any third party.

It is also stated that eircom won’t monitor network usage and that “[t]here are strict privacy laws that prohibit eircom from monitoring the online activities of individual customers.” Monitoring will be done by DtecNet on behalf of IRMA.

However, in the overview, eircom states:

IRMA will send eircom notifications containing among other things the IP addresses of individuals they have detected as engaging in illegal file sharing in breach of copyright.

One wonders what those “other things” might be. Charleton J. said:

Neither DtecNet, or any similar service of detection, nor any of the plaintiffs whose copyright material is being infringed would ever know through this process that the infringer is a particular person living in a particular place in Ireland. What they do know is that a particular IP address has been involved in the downloading.

However, DtecNet’s website states:

DtecNet’s solutions will automatically secure evidence against the infringer(s) and generate Cease & Desist letters that can be sent to the infringer(s) asking for immediate removal of the content.

This is a capability of their systems, not a detail of the IRMA/eircom agreement. But nevertheless, it appears that IRMA may be capable of gathering more than just IP addresses of alleged infringers. eircom might not share customer data with any other party, but it is not clear what data will be shared with it.

The IMRO/YouTube licence

IMRO’s licensing methods has been a hot topic recently due to its demand that Irish music bloggers pay licence fees to play music on their sites. While non-profit bloggers are understandably disappointed to learn that they may have to pay €150-€300 annually to host music, even if the musicians have provided them with the music, such a licensing scheme does not threaten to destroy the native music scene, as some have suggested.

Workarounds are possible and Nialler9, along with many comments, have pointed to the possibility of simply linking to the relevant songs if they are hosted elsewhere. One such possible host is YouTube, which reached a licence agreement with IMRO/MCPSI this year. Little detail of that licensing deal is available on IMRO’s website and no information appears to be available on YouTube’s website. So I began to wonder: does the IMRO/YouTube licence cover synchronisation rights?

Copyright can be carved up a number of ways and a copyright owner can licence or assign different parts or uses of their works. For example, on joining IMRO, a musician assigns his/her performing rights to IMRO. This means that IMRO collects royalties for that right on behalf of the musician and the musician no longer has any performing rights in the music covered by IMRO. Therefore, if an IMRO member sets up a blog and streams his/her own music on that blog, (s)he will still need an IMRO licence to do so.

Synchronisation rights are the part of copyright that cover the use of work in conjunction with other media. A common example is advertising: when you use a backing track in a television ad, you need a synchronisation right licence because you are synchronising the music with film footage. In everyday language people might refer to seeking permission or clearance to use the music – what is being sought is a synchronisation licence.

If you made an ad for a once-off broadcast at an event, such as on big screens at a music festival, you (or the festival organisers) would need:

  1. a synchronisation right licence to make the ad;
  2. an IMRO/MCPSI licence; and
  3. a PPI licence.

MCPSI (effectively a limb of IMRO) can provide synchronisation licences for some music but this must be checked on a song-by-song basis and some songs must be licensed directly from the musician. Generally, the more successful the artist, the more likely a licence is required directly from them (and the more expensive that licence will be).

It would appear that the IMRO/YouTube deal covers the playing of music on YouTube in the same way a music festival might get an IMRO licence. That does not mean, to take my example above, that the synchronisation of music in an ad is necessarily covered. Some music on YouTube is uploaded by the record company or artist responsible along with the music video that accompanies it and therefore no new synchronisation occurs. However, a huge amount of YouTube videos involve new synchronisation: whether involving the use of music as a backing track to a home movie or where a user has created their own music video to accompany a song.

I asked IMRO if these uses are covered by the licence agreed with YouTube and a definitive answer was not available. However, it appears that:

  • The IMRO/YouTube deal allows the use of music with third-party video if the musician has assigned their synchronisation rights to MCPSI or a foreign equivalent which has a co-operation agreement in place with MCPSI.
  • If the musician has retained their synchronisation rights, individual permission must be sought where music is to be used in conjunction with third-party video.
  • This means that, despite the IMRO/YouTube licence, certain musicians might still be able to have videos taken down or the sound removed from them.

If this summary of the position is correct, full rights clearance of a video uploaded to YouTube requires a song-by-song check with MCPSI to see if that song is covered by the IMRO/YouTube deal.

IMRO vs. The Blogs: collective licensing of music

©  Time Inc
"The collective licensing revenue streams, they are a-changin'."

Controversy broke out this week when Nialler9, an influential Irish music blogger, publicised IMRO’s demand that music bloggers pay for a Online Exploitation Licence. [Update: a group of Irish music bloggers met with IMRO on 6 May 2010 to discuss their concerns. Read about the meeting here.]

Like many blogs, most Irish music blogs are run at no, or very little, profit. Comments on the main posts about the issue generally share a sense of outrage and a belief that IMRO’s demands will damage new Irish music.

Incredulity is also expressed that the bands involved generally provide the music to the bloggers in the hope that it will be promoted online. The Guardian sums up the issue as follows:

If IMRO goes ahead with its plan, targeting music blogs around the world, there will soon be legions of frustrated bloggers. And it will be much worse if other regional publishers follow suit. While the organisations’ hearts may be in the right place – looking to buoy a flagging industry – we just hope they are going about it the right way. Will forcing the closure amateur music blogs make songwriters richer? Or precisely the reverse?

Collective licensing is a somewhat complicated area but it is reasonably certain that, whatever enforcement steps IMRO might or might not take against individual bloggers that refuse to buy a licence, it is highly unlikely that any agreement will be reached to exclude blogs from the licensing regime. [Update: However, it appears from the meeting between music bloggers and IMRO, mentioned above, that a new form of non-commercial licence might be considered.]

Collective copyright licensing

Individual collection of royalties from music users by music owners is extremely impractical. Therefore, a system of collective licensing has been established where by a licensing society can be set up, with rights to grant licences to play music on behalf of a class of copyright owners. The Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 provides that music can be played in public or broadcast if the appropriate fees have been paid to the relevant licensing society.

The most well-known such society in Ireland is IMRO, which collectively licenses the performance rights of copyright musical material (ie. the part of a musician’s copyright relating to the public performance of their work). It collects over €30 million in royalties annually, which are distributed to its members.

There are other collecting societies that license other copyright works, such as the Newspaper Licensing Agency and the Irish Visual Artists’ Rights Organisation. IRMA is an association of record labels and is not a collecting society.

Comments on the blog posts already mentioned point to the fact that the musicians involved authorise the use of their music on a particular music blog. Nialler9 refers to his understanding of the situation, prior to hearing from IMRO.

Like many I thought that MP3s which were cleared by bands and labels for promo were provided as is – gratis and without any attachments or additional requirements other than to promote the band and song. Y’know, the same way an entire music blogosphere and a digital PR industry has been allowed to grow up over the course of the last 10 years thinking the same.

However, musicians can only licence the rights which they retain. If they have joined IMRO, they have entered into an agreement with the organisation. The first substantive clause (clause 2) of that agreement provides that the musician is assigning (ie. transferring) all their performing rights to IMRO.

Accordingly, IMRO members cannot grant a blogger a licence to the performing right in their music because they no longer own that right.

Controversy

The collective licensing system has not been uncontroversial. Similar arguments to those now raised by music bloggers were aired over a decade ago by independent retailers and coffee shop owners who felt that they should not have to pay an IMRO licence fee to promote new and local musicians in their premises.

One might wonder why IMRO has begun to target bloggers now; the answer probably lies in the comment quoted above from the Guardian. As music use changes, collecting societies are tracking new and increasing sources of revenue from such use.

In 2004, the European Commission warned sixteen collecting bodies that an agreement between them was potentially in breach of competition law on the basis that it proposed to carve up online music licensing on a national basis. The Commission published a recommendation in 2005 which said that the industry should be free to set up EU-wide collecting societies or to allow national societies to licence on an EU-wide basis.

Disputes

In Ireland, the Controller of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks deals with disputes regarding royalty rates charged by collecting societies.

[A]nyone who considers that they have unreasonably been refused a licence by a collecting society or considers the terms of an offered licence to be unreasonable may refer the matter to the Controller.

The terms of an offered licence include the proposed royalties or licence fees.

IMRO is not a one-stop shop

So: permission from a musician does not necessarily extend to a licence to use music online; neither does an IMRO licence give a full licence to use the music.

This is a common misunderstanding. Different venues and uses may require a combination of licences from IMRO/MCPSI, PPI, the record label responsible for the recording and/or the songwriter. For certain commercial uses of specific pieces of music, a licence from all of these parties might be required. Therefore, it is important to check with IMRO or a professional adviser as to what licences are necessary.

A Clatter of the Law & World Intellectual Property Day 2010

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 teacherwriter 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 archivelaunched 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“).