Remembrance Events and Publications
Rules for using copyright poems
If you are reading a remembrance poem in public or printing a remembrance poem in a parish magazine or similar publication you may need the permission of the copyright holder to use the poem. In practice, this is rarely a problem but anyone using copyright material should be aware of the rules.
As the editor of the War Poetry Website I received many requests for permission to use poems for remembrance events. But how do you know if permission is required?
The basic rule is quite simple: if the author of a piece of writing died more than 70 years ago then he or she and those who have inherited rights to the copyright of the poem have no more claim on how the poem is used or any right to require a fee.
(This is a slight oversimplification of the rule because the 70 years should be counted not from the death of the author, but from the end of the year in which the author died. Another complication arises, but extremely rarely, when a poem has not been published in the author’s lifetime. Then the period of copyright expires 70 years after the first publication of the work. Translators of poems own the Copyright to their translations in a way similar to authors of original works.)
Therefore, if you are using an old poem you need to know if the author died more than 70 years ago.
Best known poems
The most famous and most used poem of all, for remembrance events, is For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon. He died in 1943 so anyone may use this poem or any other poem written by him without seeking permission from anyone.
Wilfred Owen was killed in 1918 and therefore his poems are free of copyright.
Siegfried Sassoon, however, died in 1967 and therefore permission is required to use his work. The contact for his work is
Barbara Levy Literary Agency
Hampstead High Street
Phone: 44 - (0)20 - 7435 9046 [Office]
Fax: 44 - (0)20 - 7431 2063 [Fax]
The main poets of the First World War are listed in Minds at War and in Out in the Dark together with their dates, brief biographical details and many of their poems, but if you don’t have either of these or other anthologies of First World War poetry typing the name of the poet into Google will usually provide the information you need to work out whether there is any possible problem with copyright.
Poems by living authors
There are a large number of poems that may be suitable for remembrance and peace events on the war poetry website on the Remembrance page – http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/RemembranceB.htm Almost all of these are by living authors and are therefore “in Copyright”. This may seem to present a huge obstacle to their use, but in fact this is not the case.
First there are several authors who have given their permission for their work to be used without charge or formalities for not-for-profit Remembrance and associated events and publications. A list is printed in Remembrance poems and readings and the full text of their conditions (basically the poems have to be used as just described above and the work must be attributed to the authors).
Authors granting permission in special circumstances
These are: John Bailey, Owen Griffiths, Charles Henrywood, Maxine Kendall, David Rivett, and David Roberts.
Authors generally like to hear of their poems being used so if you use work by any of the above a short email addressed to the author but emailed to me would be appreciated. I will forward the email immediately to the relevant author.
Other living authors
In my experience when authors are approached for the use of their poems for remembrance purposes they always readily agree to this without requesting payment. Nevertheless permission should always be requested and this may easily be done with a short email to me, as editor of the war poetry website (contact details on the website itself). The information required is very obvious. We need the title of the poem (s), the names of the authors and a brief description of where and when the poem is to be used. I will then forward the email to the relevant author and usually within one or two days in the authors reply. (I do not give out the email addresses of authors.)
The problematic authors
These are living authors who are not included on the war poetry website and those who have died within the last 70 years. If you wish to use poems by these people you need to find out who owns the Copyright. If you have found the poem in a printed book go to the Copyright page and there you will find the details of the copyright owners. Usually, then, it is a matter of using the Internet to track down the agent or person.
Tracking down copyright owners
This does not always work and there are a number of places you can go to try to find information. The most useful of these is the copyright centre in Texas which is associated with the University of Reading.
This is the link:
It is a simple matter to enter the first and last name of the author you want to find out about. This is where the contact details for Siegfried Sassoon were found.
If you are using poems that are “in copyright” for commercial purposes ie charging admission or charging for a publication then the permission of the copyright holder should be sought.
I have been dealing with copyright issues as a writer, publisher and website editor for 20 years and I believe the above information to be correct. It should provide most of the answers to anyone posing the questions, “is this in Copyright?” or “Can I use this poem?” However, I am not a lawyer and it is the responsibility of everyone using copyright material to ensure that they are acting within the law. If you follow the guidelines set out above I do not think you will have any problems.
Editor of the war poetry website: www.warpoetry.co.uk
Editor of Remembrance Poems and Readings for Remembrance Events and Reflection on Matters of War and Peace, and three anthologies of poetry of the First World War.