Friday, June 17, 2016

Suit seeks to put 'This Land Is Your Land' in public domain, says any copyright expired long ago

Woody Guthrie (Associated Press photo)
Woody Guthrie's classic song "This Land Is Your Land" could soon be in the public domain, if the New York law firm that last year persuaded a federal judge to put "Happy Birthday to You" there has its way, Niraj Chokshi reports for The New York Times. The firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz also hopes to do the same for the Civil Rights-era protest song “We Shall Overcome.” Guthrie's song was written in response to Irving Berlin's “God Bless America,” which Guthrie "felt inadequately addressed land and wealth inequality, according to the Library of Congress."

The suit filed Tuesday for "This Land Is Your Land" aims to liberate "a song known to generations of schoolchildren who have raised their voices to sing about a free country belonging to one and all, sprawling 'from California to New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters'," Chokshi writes. "The suit was filed on behalf of the Brooklyn band Satorii, which recorded two versions of the song. It argues that the music belongs to the public and not to The Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, the publishing company that collects licensing fees to use the composition. Ludlow did not return phone calls or answer an email message seeking comment on Thursday."

Satorii and their lawyers say that in 1945, Guthrie "published the song with a copyright notice that was never renewed," Chokshi writes. "As a result, that copyright would have expired—and the song would have entered the public domain—28 years later, in 1973, they say. Despite Guthrie’s publication, Ludlow filed for its own copyright of the song in 1956, according to the suit. But Satorii and its lawyers argue that Ludlow never had a right to claim the copyright in the first place."

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