Waltzing Matilda Copyright Status Who Owns the Copyright to Waltzing Matilda

There is some controversy and angst in Australia about Waltzing Matilda's copyright status. While the general public may believe that it belongs to the people, it isn't that simple.

Australian and World-wide Copyright (except USA)

Copyright in Australia lasts for 50 years after the death of the creator of the work.

The original version of Waltzing Matilda was written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson. Banjo never claimed a copyright for it. He died in 1941. So, his original words for the song came out of copyright in 1991. Christina Macpherson also never claimed copyright for the music. She died in 1936. So, any copyright on the music would have expired in 1986.

Banjo Paterson sold the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda to Angus and Robertson publishers in 1895, and they, in turn, sold it in 1902 to James Inglis & Co, the owners of the "Billy Tea" trademark. Marie Cowan, the wife of one of the managers of the Billy Tea Company, rewrote the lyrics and set it again to music using the original Christian Macpherson version as her inspiration. This was freely distributed by the Billy Tea Company with their products. In 1907, Sydney University got permission from the Billy Tea Company to use Waltzing Matilda in a songbook. They were allowed to do so on the proviso that they acknowledge that James Inglis & Co owned the song. In effect, this implied de facto rights to the song. No formal copyright request was lodged. So this, too, would be out of copyright.

It appears that at some point, Allans Music Company started publishing music sheets for Marie Cowan's version of Waltzing Matilda. They, too, never claimed copyright in Australia or overseas. However, there is a twist when it comes to the USA.

USA Copyright

It appears that Carl Fischer Music falsely copyrighted the song in the United States as an original composition in 1941. Since there was no challenge to this by anybody this copyright in the United States stands. The copyright in the US was subsequently renewed by them. When the Australians used Waltzing Matilda in the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, they had to pay royalties to Carl Fischer Music. It just so happens that Carl Fischer Music is only acting as an agent. An agent for Allans Music in Australia, and the royalties collected in the United States were remitted back to Allans Music in Australia. Allans Music went into liquidation in 2012 and was bought by Australian Musical Imports.


Waltzing Matilda is not copyrighted in all countries except the United States, where Carl Fischer Music registers the copyright.