"We wish you a Merry Christmas" and the Public Domain

Image from Singing-bell.com
The holiday season has come upon us and during this time of the year, some of us sing Christmas carols, as well as sing or hum the song, “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. This song is synonymous with the Christmas and festive season. You will probably hear this song blaring from shopping malls and hubs, eager reveller’s phones as their ringtone and down many streets, especially as December 25th approaches and the New Year. This blogger would like to explore the fact that certain versions of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and a number of other Christmas carols are “copyright free” as they are considered to be works in the public domain.

We wish you a Merry Christmas is an English Carol from the 1500s and is a work in the public domain. The Stanford University guide to Copyright and Fair use defines works in the “public domain” as ‘creative works that not protected by intellectual property laws’ meaning that the public as opposed to an individual own these works. Additionally, s45(c) of the Copyright Act Cap. 130 (as revised in 2014) states that  ‘foreign works which do not enjoy protection in Kenya’ also form part of works that are considered to be in the public domain; “We wish you a Merry Christmas” would classify as one of these works.
This blogger would like to state that even though multiple versions of the song and carols fall under the public domain, one must be careful not to use a copyrighted versions of any song without a mechanical licence from the copyright holder and the payment of royalties to the relevant collecting society for the use of the copyrighted version of the song.
Other songs that fall within the public domain include “Jingle Bells”, “Come All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, “Away in a Manger” and “Twelve Days of Christmas”; for a list of more Christmas carols in the public domain can be found here.
As long as you sing a version of these Christmas carols and “We wish you a Merry Christmas” that fall into the public domain, please have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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