Citing Old Songs in the Public Domain
November 15, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

What is the correct way to reference a song in an academic paper if it is in the public domain due to age? I'm using the words of songs written in the 1800's, but I'm not sure what my obligation is for citations, and how I would go about referencing it, as most song citations including things like specific date, recording company, etc. Thanks!
posted by SpacemanStix to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Best answer: You would probably cite whatever source you got the lyrics from, including the date you accessed that source if it's online. If it's a folk song with no certain writer, you would omit that and start the (bibliographic) citation with the song's title. I think.
posted by AugieAugustus at 8:42 AM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: You cite your source so that your readers can find the same version of the text as the one that you are examining. If that is a folk song, then you cite the text in which you found it, or reference it as a personal communication from the singer.
posted by pickypicky at 8:56 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The purpose of citation is mostly unrelated to the matter of who holds the copyright.

Definitely cite the documents from which you transcribe lyrics. One of the realities of older songs is that accounts of the lyrics can vary--sometimes widely--from source to source. Citation is thus important both for accounting for this diversity, and correcting old errors when possible.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:05 AM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is a good overview of citation in music (using Turabian/Chicago style).
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: Citation is almost always a good idea. How and when to cite often falls to the style that you are using. I use this site all the time, they give a clear and concise idea for different styles. Citation is about plagiarism prevention, anything that you did not know before you began the paper should be cited.

I was working with a professor on something when we got to talking about citation and plagiarism; he once received a paper from a student that looked all to vaguely familiar. My professor spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what the source was; he ran it through all the normal databases and asked colleagues.

One night after he had all but given up it came to him: it was HIS paper that the student had plagiarized. Even worse it was my professors doctoral thesis. He had written it so long ago that the specific text was unknown to him. Needless to say, the student did not get a good grade.
posted by Felex at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2010

Response by poster: Of course, makes sense. What threw me off a bit was that a couple of them are common enough that they are frequently known without a source, but in those cases, I tracked down a reference to them in the literature anyway. And the ones that are more obscure would have come from a source somewhere. Thanks for the help!
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:49 AM on November 15, 2010

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