Civil rights and Union leaders sing 'We Shall Overcome' at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Stephen F. Somerstein — Getty Images

What would Pete Seeger think?

By Ben Geier
April 13, 2016

“We Shall Overcome” was one of the most iconic songs of the 1950s and 60s, when it was sung by Civil Rights protesters throughout the South. It has been recorded by legendary artists like Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen. Now, though, it may become public domain.

The same lawyers who won a case last year making “Happy Birthday” public domain—perhaps freeing you from those terrible knockoff versions sung at tacky chain restaurants—are looking to make the song public domain, reports Reuters. The lawyers, from the firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, are petitioning a judge in New York on behalf of the makers of a planned documentary film.

The Richmond Organization and its music label Ludlow Music Inc. currently own the rights to the tune. An e-mail to the company was not immediately returned.

The We Shall Overcome Foundation, the plaintiff in the case, wants to make a documentary about this history of the song and its use in the Civil Rights Movement but were not given permission.

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