Can anyone own the rights to Waltzing Matilda?

What can legally be registered and protected under a trade mark? While the term Waltzing Matilda can, there are still limits.

Can the iconic song Waltzing Matilda receive a trade mark? According to IP Australia's trade mark database, the term is already registered and protected under a trade mark by WM Productions.

Earlier this year, the company applied for further protection for the name sparking many to ask whether there are limits to trade mark registration in Australia

Can any term be trade-marked?

WM Productions attempted to renew its trade mark, sparking concerns of potential copyright infringement due to fire that destroyed the Waltzing Matilda Centre on June 18 this year, as reported by the Winton Shire Council. 

According to an often-cited statement by the production company, it did not intend to prevent reasonable use of the name nor the song.

"It [WM Productions] has no intention of, or desire to, prevent the fair and reasonable use of the name by Winton Shire Council, The Waltzing Matilda Centre or any party outside the scope of its trade mark rights," said WM Productions' Gina Boon, as reported by The Telegraph.

IP Australia outlined restrictions on what can be registered as a trade mark in Australia, including:

  • Common terms, this includes phrases such as eco-friendly, MRI or XL;
  • Surnames and place names, which can only be registered in special circumstances; and 
  • Flags, emblems and other official signs.

When seeking trade mark registration in Australia, there are complexities that can be difficult to navigate on your own. Using the services of lawyers well-versed in Australia's law can help clarify any confusion, making it more likely your application will be accepted. 

What are WM Productions' rights?

The company registered Waltzing Matilda as a trade mark, under various classes, including 9 and 41. According to IP Australia's A guide to applying for your Trade Mark, this can be used to obtain exclusive film rights of the registered trade mark.

Registering a trade mark for the purpose of developing a brand is not uncommon, with many celebrities following suit, including Australia's own Jarryd Hayne. It serves as an example of how business leaders can use a registered trade mark to develop their company and prevent other parties from capitalising on their hard work.  

This case serves as a reminder of the value a trade mark can bring to a company, particularly as your brand grows and becomes more recognisable. Moreover, the nuances of Australia's intellectual property law highlights the importance of contacting a trade mark attorney in Australia when seeking to register your brand.