Who owns the ‘King’s Song’?

Composer John Ewbank received a barrage of criticism as a result of the cringe-making lyrics in the official King’s Song for the new Dutch king. Stung by the public mockery, he announced that he was withdrawing the song. The National Investiture Committee decided otherwise: the song would go ahead.

John Ewbank wasn’t the only one who worked on the song. He only composed the melody. The widely-criticised lyrics were put together by a committee of the Netherlands’ brightest and best including TV presenter, writer, actress and model Daphne Deckers, from suggestions made by the Dutch public. The fifty-one contributing artists who performed the song are also entitled to ‘related rights’.

In legal terms, the composer, songwriters and contributing artists probably no longer have any rights in respect of the King’s Song. It’s likely that the National Committee stipulated in advance that it owns all copyright in the song, giving it complete control. In that case, the makers of the song have little say in its reproduction and publication.

The fact that the National Committee probably owns all the copyright still doesn’t mean that it can do anything it wants with the song. The makers always retain their moral rights. For example, they can ban the song if it is mutilated, altered or published without the authors’ names. They do have to put up with parodies of the song, though.

It’s a pity the makers did not exercise the rights given to them by Article 25(4) of the Dutch Copyright Act: “If the maker has assigned copyright to the work, he remains entitled to make such changes to the work as the generally accepted rules of society permit in good faith.” Sadly, the makers did not take advantage of this opportunity to correct the many grammatical errors in the song.