Are Original Limericks Protected?

For instance, if I were to tell y’all I made this one up, who’d tell me otherwise?

(I didn’t, BTW)

There was a young fellow from Sparta,
A really magnificent farter,
On the strength of one bean
He’d fart God Save The Queen,
And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

Admittedly, not one of the funniest, right, but the guy who sat and wrote it should be due a modicum of recognition, don’tcha think?



A limerick’s authorship’s moot.
My main concern’s not my repute
For rhythmic scatology–
Those with the knowledge e-
Ternally should remain mute.

All creative works are copyrighted as soon as they are written down. Whether the author wants to take steps to protect that copyright is up to them.

True under current law.

An old standard like the OP’s would have been created under different laws and may or may not be under copyright depending on the usual million factors.

Fair use runs into problems with poetry. Fair use case law basically says you can’t take so much that it ruins the value of the original, without ever defining generally how much “how much” is. Nobody ever quotes only part of a limerick. Technically speaking, any quoting would violate fair use. But I don’t know of any cases where that made it through the system.

Of course, this is all pointless pedantics, since all Quasi wanted to do was quote an old limerick.

I did, for my sins, read Gershon Legman’s 1970 The Limerick in college. 500+ pages of limericks and analysis of them by a scholar utterly lacking in humor. (The Rationale of the Dirty Joke is worse, though.) As you can see in the comment, our friend from Sparta is included. You can buy it there for a penny. Go ahead. I dare you.

I don’t know of any cases involving limericks, but Ashleigh Brilliant has successfully sued over copyright infringement of “works” that are even shorter.

He’s a professional litigator. He did win a couple of cases a while back, in 1979, over t-shirts using his epigrams. I’m pretty sure the cases started under an older version of copyright law, not that it would necessarily make any difference. Selling somebody’s phrases on t-shirts is pretty much the definition of a not fair use.

The real question is how much of a precedent his case is for anything else. My guess is, not much. IANAL.