Is “This Land is Your Land” in the Public Domain?

TechDirt has published a fascinating look at the contested copyright of the classic song “This Land is Your Land,” written in 1940 by Woody Guthrie.

There are a lot of interesting details about the triggering and renewal of the song’s copyright, lawsuits, and so forth, but the part I found most interesting was a quote from Guthrie where he was, in essence, calling for the song to be issued into a kind of Creative Commons:

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.

Given that the folk tradition is based on the passing around of songs, I suppose this message shouldn’t seem all that unusual, but in the context of mid-20th Century America, how revolutionary! And how perfect for an anthem about sharing, and the ills of private ownership.

As I went walking I saw a sign there.
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

(Picture by Al Aumuller / New York World-Telegram and the Sun.)

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