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PDF Proof: 'This Song is Your Song'

August 25, 2004

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A court case alleging copyright infringement against a Web site using a popular song in a political parody ended abruptly when an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) investigation revealed that Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" is in the public domain and has been for several decades. The EFF has posted a PDF-based excerpt of a 1945 songbook [PDF: 4.2 MB] published by the author that contains the popular tune. At that time, copyright holders owned their work for 28 years, and could renew the copyright once during the first term, for another 28 years. It was never renewed.

"We believe that Guthrie's classic tune, 'This Land Is Your Land,' belongs to all of us now, just like Amazing Grace and Beethoven's symphonies," says Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney with EFF. "The idea of copyright law is that, after a time, every work comes back into the hands of the public, where it can be reused, recycled, made part of new creativity without having to pay a fee or call in the lawyers. That's a great thing, the real genius of copyright."

The JibJab Media Inc. Web site created a humorous Flash animation, based on the song, featuring Pres. George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry. Claiming ownership rights to the song, Ludlow Music demanded earlier this month that JibJab cease displaying its animated flick lampooning the presidential opponents. It has dropped those demands.

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