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Folk Music/Copyrights on old songs and stories


Hello, I noted your answer to a question about a song and story regarding an American Indian boy named Red Fox. I appreciated your accurate, though incomplete, answer. You told us what you did know and got the ball rolling for others to help fill in the rest. Based on your answer I doubt you know the origin of the particular song, but my question is more general.
The question is this: How can one know whether a story featuring a song (including the song itself) is still under copyright?  I am searching for the one mentioned above in particular. Thus I know it is or was previously owned by Colombia Records, currently under Sony Corporation due to a buy-out.
I could always contact Sony directly, but I might then run the risk of Sony filing for renewal of rights. Whereas, if it had already gone into public domain and someone had already acted on this in a way that established it as public domain, then it certainly would remain so. Perhaps you have come across a similar situation to this related to something other than this particular story and song about "Red Fox." Any information would be helpful and appreciated.

Dear Ken

I don't recall the question you refer to - could it have been another expert? My area of expertise is traditional Scottish music.

With regard to copyright, each country has different laws: in the UK, copyright exists from the point of the writer's / composer's death plus 75 years. The US is different - you could try contacting the US copyright office - - and you may have to consider intellectual property alongside copyright. The recent ruling on 'happy birthday' (
In short, music rights can be extremely contentious. I'd suggest investigating the copyright office options before approaching any commercial organisation. It will depend if the song was written for a product of Columbia/ Sony. They may only have the rights surrounding one performance etc.

Good luck with this and perhaps recheck the original post about that song.

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Kaye McAlpine


My main field of expertise in in traditional ballads - those commonly known as the Child ballads. Those containing executions are my particular speciality, but I am also interested in ballad structure formula, functions and narrative constructs. However, I also have interest in - and academic knowledge of - bothy ballads, and the singing tradition of Scotland - although not Gaelic song. This includes Jacobite song, political song, songs about the trades, and so on. I'm pretty au fait with traditional singers and bands too. And while I enjoy singing the songs, I'm not so sure others might enjoy listening!


I studied ballads academically, as well as Scottish literature. This extended into Scottish social customs and social history. I was the traditional music reviewer for the Edinburgh Evening News for 4 years, and have several publications to my name. I have been a freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. I am a freelance writer, have been a guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, and was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow', and have advised BBC Radio Scotland researchers regarding Scottish songs and ballads from the Borders.

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake. Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10 'Oral Literature and Performance Culture', chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture, Scottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal. Music reviews appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (Hons)

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