Country singer John Williamson says he'd rather go to jail
than pay someone for the right to sing Waltzing Matilda.
Williamson has led thousands of Aussie supporters at sporting
events belting out the stirring song to boost our players. It's
our answer to the All Blacks' fearsome haka. Aussie travellers
sing it in pubs around the world. We sing it with pride on
Australia Day. The song, written by bush poet Banjo Paterson in
1895 is a core ingredient of Aussie Culture.
Williamson spoke out after fears the iconic national song could
be snapped up under trademark registration. Queensland independent
Bob Katter said he'd introduce legislation to parliament that
would reject trademark registration if it covers something of
But is their concern based on the reality of law? Stacks Law
Firm lawyer Michael McHugh, who has a lot to do with Tamworth's
country music festival, says no one is really able to own
Waltzing Matilda or prevent people from singing it.
"Copyright subsists automatically. That means that once
someone has written something down, it is automatically protected
by copyright. There are of course rules about whose copyright it
is, and how long it lasts. Literary and artistic works are
protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. After that the
work falls into the public domain. Therefore Waltzing
Matilda is not owned by anyone. The public can sing it as much
as they like without paying anyone royalties or breaching any
Intellectual Property rules."
However a trademark is a different story. A Victorian film
making company has successfully trademarked the words 'Waltzing
Matilda' as a brand for their film production and
"But this does not affect other people using the words
'Waltzing Matilda' freely when depicting the
history of Banjo Patterson such as the Winton Tourist Centre which
is dedicated to Waltzing Matilda and The Waltzing Matilda
Mr McHugh says that when assessing whether to trademark your
brand you must consider whether the words will affect the way
people use everyday language. For instance, you generally can't
trademark a city or common name because it would be infringed on a
daily basis and would be unfair for those wanting to use the city
or town name in the future.
"Copyright and trade mark ownership can be important
business assets so it's a good idea to review what protections
you have put in place and if in doubt, seek expert legal
advice," Mr McHugh said.
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The Ugg boots case revolves around who holds the trade mark rights to the word 'Ugg' in relation to sheepskin boots.
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