Court Keeps This Land Is Your Land Out of Public Domain

Group challenged copyright after having to pay $45.50 to record Woody Guthrie's song
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2020 7:35 PM CST
Court Keeps This Land Is Your Land Out of Public Domain
Workers put the finishing touches on the Woody Guthrie Center, which features a mural of the Oklahoma-born folk singer/songwriter, in downtown Tulsa in 2013.   (AP Photo/Justin Juozapavicius)

This Land Is Your Land, the folk anthem written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and sung at political rallies and around campfires for decades, is staying out of the public domain. A federal judge made the ruling in a copyright challenge by a musical group that had to pay $45.50 to a publishing company to make its own recording of the song, the New York Times reports. The case didn't decide the big-picture issues; the judge said there was no dispute to settle because the group had already paid the money and received permission to record the song. After traveling the country by walking, hitchhiking, and hopping trains, and meeting migrating refugees from the Dust Bowl, Guthrie recorded This Land Is Your Land in 1944. The song was partly a response to Kate Smith's popular version of God Bless America, per NPR. Guthrie first called the song God Blessed America for Me.

The song is still half-owned by Woody Guthrie Publications. Guthrie's daughter Nora said in 2016 that the issue is more about control of the anthem than it is money. This way, she said, the family can protect This Land Is Your Land's message of inclusion from being co-opted by politicians or otherwise misused. "Our control of this song has nothing to do with financial gain," she said. "It has to do with protecting it from Donald Trump, protecting it from the Ku Klux Klan, protecting it from all the evil forces out there." The full set of lyrics is here. (Guthrie also wrote lyrics about Donald Trump's father.)

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