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It’s official: copyright on the National Anthem has ended

The government says it will bring in new legislation if necessary to stop people from messing around with Amhrán na bhFiann.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said it may consider bringing in new laws to protect the national anthem after copyright on Amhrán na bhFiann officially expired.

Michael Noonan told the Dail that the Department of Finance will do what it can to make sure the national anthem is not mocked or used in an inappropriate way now that it has fallen out of copyright.

Copyright for the national anthem officially expired on 31 December 2012.

Many other countries have already seen copyright expire on their national anthem leaving it open to be remixed and used for commercial use - most notably by the Sex Pistols with their version of God Save the Queen and Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance of The Star Spangled Banner.

The State bought the copyright for Amhrán na bhFiann in 1933 for £1,000 to ensure that it would be available for free for general use and so performance fees would not be charged for its use – a situation that Michael Noonan said will not change even though the copyright has now ended.

However the ending of copyright has led to some debate about the relevance of the anthem now and whether a new anthem or new wording should be introduced.

In response to a question from TD Maureen O’Sullivan, who has been campaigning for the government to reclaim the copyright, Michael Noonan said that the government still plans to ensure the national anthem can be freely available for general use. He told the Dáil:

In relation to protecting the integrity of the National Anthem my Department will look at the possibility of introducing legislation should it be required to ensure that the National Anthem is not being used in an inappropriate context and without due deference such as to render it an object of scorn or derision.

The Minister did not go into detail about exactly how the anthem could be rendered an object of scorn or derision; however one barrister noted that the issue could be one of freedom of expression.

“The Constitution provides for freedom, ‘subject to public order and morality’ to express freely one’s opinions and convictions,” Fergal Crehan told TheJournal.ie. “However, it also provides that State may ensure that organs of public opinion, ‘while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State’. Elsewhere, the publication of seditious material is stated to be an offence”.

The question is, would the banning of a satirical or commercial treatment of the Anthem be a breach of the right to freedom of expression, or would it be a reasonable limitation of it in the interests of public order?My feeling is that, absent a specific subversive, public order or morality element, it would be the former. Minister Noonan has referred to lack of deference, scorn and derision. I think that falls a long way short of what might justify such measures.

The song was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney, who wrote the original lyrics in English. The song was adopted as the national anthem in 1922.  Peadar Kearney died in 1942 and under the current law, copyright officially expired on 31 December 2012,  70 years after his death.

Maureen O’Sullivan told TheJournal.ie in December that she was concerned about how the anthem could be used now copyright has expired. “I wouldn’t want it to be seen as a jingle for an ad,” she said.


(Video: theme45/YouTube)

Column: What’s the point of our national anthem today? >

Read: No plans to remove ‘Fianna Fáil from anthem or Defence Forces logo, says govt >

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