‘We Shall Overcome’ Overcomes Bogus Copyright Claim — Officially In The Public Domain

The same legal team that helped get the song “Happy Birthday” officially cleared into the public domain has done it again with the song “We Shall Overcome.” As we wrote about, the same team filed a similar lawsuit against The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music, who claimed a highly questionable copyright in the famous song “We Shall Overcome.” As the lawsuit showed, the song had a lengthy history long before Ludlow’s copyright claim.

Last September, the judge made it clear that the song’s claimed copyright was on weak grounds, rejecting arguments that key parts of the song were subject to copyright. Apparently, Ludlow Music tried to salvage something out of the wreck by just promising to offer a “covenant not to sue” against the plaintiffs… which the judge said wasn’t good enough earlier this month.

So, now the two sides have come to a settlement clearly admitting that the song is in the public domain:

Defendants agree that hearafter they will not claim copyright in the melody or lyrics of any verse of the song We Shall Overcome (“the Song”)…. Defendants agree that the melody and lyrics of those verses of the Song are hereafter dedicated to the public domain.

This is, obviously, a good result. Though I find it a little tacky that the defendants now want to “dedicate” the song to the public domain, when the truth is the song has been in the public domain all along, and it was only a false copyright claim by the defendants that attempted to hide the fact that it was in the public domain. Also, as with “Happy Birthday,” these publishers still got to profit off of years of licensing a song they had no legitimate right to license.

Still, it’s good to see yet another song officially in the public domain without any legal dispute over its status. The full dispute isn’t over yet, as the plaintiffs are still seeking legal fees, which they very well may get. Now let’s see if these same two defendants can be convinced to let go of their bogus copyright claim on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” as they’re facing a very, very similar lawsuit over that song too.

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