CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Judge Allows Bid to Free "We Shall Overcome" From Copyright

Hollywood Reporter: A group of plaintiffs have overcome the first major hurdle in a lawsuit that aims to establish that the unofficial anthem to the Civil Rights Movement is not really under copyright protection. On Monday, a New York federal judge rejected a publisher's bid to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that lyrics in the first verse of "We Shall Overcome" were copied from material in the public domain and that there's been a fraud on the U.S. Copyright Office.


Scott MacDonald said...

The privatization and profiteering off of negro spirituals is nothing new but this case is especially absurd. I’m glad to see that the judge in this case is taking action to allow this case to proceed. It’s quite difficult to make a claim that anyone “owns” much of American music, since traditional American music is inherently a mixture of other things, many of those influences being the black communities imported to this continent years ago. Ever since, white America has been taking bits and pieces of black culture for themselves, and then telling the creators of the art that they now have to pay for it. It’s a classic case of using a system meant to protect creators to instead hurt those responsible for the content in the first place. Part of the problem is that the system is set-up in a way that expects works to be able to be attributed to a single creator. But folk music in America rarely can be entirely attributed to one person. So much is borrowed and pieced together in American music that it is often more accurate to say “I made this song” rather than “I wrote this song” – since what is often going on is an assembly of parts and pieces, rather than a completely originally penning of work. I’m happy to see that some people are finally bringing to light one such case of the American copyright system doing more damage than good. As a side note, Pete Seeger was an awesome dude.

John Yoerger said...

This was a good case. I'm certainly not surprised that they would try and pull one over and get claims over this because, let's me real: CA-CHING. I've heard of similar battles like this, including someone who recently tried to claim copyright over the Star Spangled Banner... which is I think just as funny as this situation. I will never cease to be amazed by the interesting court cases that arise in regards to copyright law. Someone always wants to claim that something is theirs that isn't to make a quick buck. I don't blame them for trying because I guess it can sometimes work, but you'll certainly look like an asshat if it doesn't and an idiot for trying. I suppose you look like an idiot anyways. I'm surprised that companies don't lose business over court battles like this one when they try to claim ownership of something that is so clearly not theirs. I wonder if their shareholders will have anything to say about this...

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