Then, in mid-70s and in the USSR, that song was already known as the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement in the U.S.
Yet, nowadays, that anthem has become the focus of a lawsuit against a corporation claiming a copyright for that song, according to the lawsuit, stifling its public performances.
Here are the relevant portions of the complaint filed on April 12, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the case is called:
We Shall Overcome Foundation et al v. The Richmond Organization Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-02725.
In November of 2016, Judge Denise Cote dismissed state claims on preemption grounds - since the majority of state claims hinge upon the main issue, whether the Defendants own a copyright to this "song".
On September 8, 2017, while allowing the case to proceed to trial, Judge Cote decided for the Plaintiffs, and removed from the trial by a partial summary judgment, this issue:
Here are the differences that were claimed to be protected by copyright:
This is the first case when I felt really, really sorry for the judge who has to go through all this nonsense about copyright of a song which has been in the public domain for more than half of a century - and her meticulous work in her dismissal decision and her partial summary judgment decision is commendable.
Look at what she had to deal with:
So, the what is "copyrighted" is subtle changes to the melody that can be made by a specific singer of the song and not an author, and which do not add anything to the originality of the work - and especially of a "song" which has been in the public domain for over 70 years.
I am not saying that to file this lawsuit was silly, no.
It was, unfortunately, necessary if the supposed "owners" of the "copyright" to the civil rights anthem claim royalties for performing this song and stifle performance of what has long ago become a civil rights anthem.
In other words, each time anybody sings this song publicly as a means of political expression, he or she, or they must pay the "owners" a fee, or be in violation of federal copyright law (which can be enforced as a federal crime, too).
The lawsuit brings up important issues - as to the status of songs that people like so much that they become the banner of a large political movement.
This case still goes to trial on all issues other than whether the Defendants own copyright for the melody and first verse of the "song". They don't, according to the court's decision.
Other issues in the lawsuit
- - read the full decision here - are fair game at trial.
It will be, of course, a good and decent thing to do for people to just cede their supposed "copyright claim" to the public domain and settle the lawsuit. But, it did not happen since April 12, 2016 when the lawsuit was filed, and our public funds are continued to be spent on the long fight which appears (on behalf of Defendants) to be nonsensical and bizarre.
It is interesting to mention - and the Plaintiffs in this case mentioned it - that the Defendants never pursued anybody for copyright violations in court, probably, understanding that they do not have much ground to stand on.
What will the jury say as to the remaining issues, now that the judge threw a wrench into the litigation by declaring that the Defendants do not own copyright as to the music and words of the first verse?
I will continue to follow and report on this case.