Judge Throws Out 57-Year-Old Copyright On “We Shall Overcome”

from ars technica

A federal judge ruled (PDF) on Friday that the most famous verse of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” is not copyrighted.

The ruling is a decisive, but still incomplete, win for the two plaintiffs. One of those plaintiffs is a charity group called the “We Shall Overcome Foundation” that’s making a movie about the song, and the other is Butler Films LLC, a company that paid $15,000 to license just several seconds of the song for the movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

Plaintiff’s attorney Randall Newman hopes the two organizations will represent a class-action case composed of people who were charged royalties for using the song.

The foundation’s website says its film will demonstrate “extraordinary evidence that ‘We Shall Overcome’ was unlawfully misappropriated from the African-American Church and belongs in the public domain.”

Before he filed the lawsuit challenging the “We Shall Overcome” copyright, Newman successfully wiped out the copyright on “Happy Birthday,”putting that song in the public domain and collecting a $14 million settlement from its previous owner, Warner/Chappell.

More here.

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One Comment

  1. When speaking about copywriting and the legal side of the music industry it is important to take into consideration the increase of artists copy writing their sound and style in recent years. With Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams lawsuit for their hit blurred lines it seems that more now than ever before producers and others who write or use music for media need to be wary of a lawsuit. Along with these copyrights owners of these sounds are able to require those who use copyrighted music for approved projects to pay royalties. These royalties are usually a large sum of money that grants users the ability to use the song for specific projects. Personally to me, the idea of paying royalties and granting limited access to songs for profit defeats the reason artists claim to copyright their sound: to protect their music. When artists begin to loan out their music it becomes clear for me that they care more about money and less what music is supposed to be about: sharing passion, healing, discipline, creating bonds, and sharing creative artistic ability. With songs that have significant cultural meaning or universal usage in every household across countries it seems like an injustice to the music. Especially when a song is rooted culturally it is a disrespect to the culture the song is tied to and originates from. An important movement that shaped a huge part of American History is the Civil RIghts Movement. The civil rights movement originated due to the harsh inequalities Black Americans had to endure following American Slavery and the jim crow era. The song “we shall overcome” originated from slave folk songs during the time of enslavement. This song is a symbol for black suffrage and the push for not just equality but also for integration and the idea that color should not determine social class. When copywriting songs rooted in these movements and ideas it shows a lack of respect and integrity of the ideas this song was based in and the reason it was created: to be shared among those in the fight against racism. Speaking specifically about the song “we shall overcome” it made an important impact on the schooling communities including mine. In 2016 I was a freshman in highschool and I joined chorus to make friends. In the chorus class we were in a unit about music’s cultural healing properties and how it brings groups of people together in times of struggle. During this time President Donald Trump was being elected into the presidency creating a rise of prejudice and anti LGBTQ posts and threats; which were coming from radically conservative republicans using the election campaigns as excuses to spread hate and partake in hate crimes. During this time the music community was making an attempt to create a safe space for racial and social minorities by bringing groups together to create a safe space. The project that schools began to take part in was the “we shall overcome challenge” in which all students from all backgrounds would stand side by side and sing this song and post to protest the obvious divides in America surrounding that time. My friends struggling with the uproar of conservative values during this time cried in relief as the power of music allowed communities to come together as one where all are equal. For this reason I believe that music has no eyes, simply a heart and soul. Due to that belief i strongly feel that copywriting these songs and placing a price tag on them rips away the point and meaning of the song disrespecting the music of it all.

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