A couple of excerpts from the Copyright Office site set out by Sam:
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed
form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the
property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those
deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
* * *
*Two General Principles*
• Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or
phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides
that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected
work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.
Since there was never any transfer of ownership of the song lyrics
themselves to the museum, this falls in the second paragraph. The museum
merely owns the manuscript, not the lyrics themselves.
On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 5:04 PM, John Haley <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> See Wiki for for Tom Dooley:
> According to Wiki, the song is indeed based on Tom Dula's murder of Laura
> Even if the lyrics of Dula's other song were published in a copyrighted
> monograph or article, the lyrics themselves could not be protected, if
> someone wanted to use them.
> John Haley
> On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 4:54 PM, David Lewis <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> It is not copyrightable, as Dula died in 1868 and the work was created
>> before 1893. But you could publish it within a monograph about Dula, and
>> you can copyright that.
>> Dave Lewis
>> On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 1:30 PM, Marty Tschetter
>> <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> > Colleagues,
>> > Seeking advice or experience...my local museum stumbled across
>> > lyrics written by Tom Dula in 1862 as a Confederate soldier, donated
>> > outright to the museum circa 2005 by a distant relative. Just about
>> > week we get visitors interested in the Tom Dula story because of the
>> > song "Hang Your Head Down Low Tom Dooley" recorded by the Kingston Trio.
>> > Doc Watson and even the Grateful Dead recorded the song.
>> > How do we copyright this song? Should we do this? As a small museum, any
>> > suggestions or thoughts if we could possibly (or should) try to make
>> > money off the song? I'm not sure exactly how this would work or what is
>> > appropriate. Any advice or feedback welcomed.
>> > Marty