I am pretty certain that both the words and Vaughan Williams’ FOREST GREEN tune for the popular carol O Little Town of Bethlehem are safely in the public domain. The words were penned in 1868 and the tune, based on a traditional English folk song, was first published in the English Hymnal of 1906.
It is one of the songs I have planned for our online carol service on 20th December but I’ve been working on it for the past couple of weeks because I want to allow others from the church to join in so that our – COVID-19 safe – online service feels as much like the experience of a physically congregated service as possible.
I’ve been uploading the work in progress tracks as private entries on my Soundcloud account. I’ve had a couple of versions of O Little Town up already but today’s revision attracted an automated copyright notice from a choir I’ve never heard of. It leaves me feeling a bit miffed because the source is in the public domain, the performance is entirely original, the track is private except to those I share it with (so I thought) and it now introduces a hiccup for those who might want to use Soundcloud’s online player to listen and back their participation.
Hopefully, the evidence I have submitted to dispute the claim will be processed swiftly but it reminds me of the risks of letting mindless automata take action.