This Iconic Song May Soon be Public Domain

April 13, 2016, 2:53 PM UTC
MONTGOMERY, AL - MARCH 25: Dr. Civil rights and Union leaders (Left: Cleveland Robinson, (vice-president of the Negro American Labor Council), 3rd from front left: author James Baldwin, 4th from front left: march planner Bayard Rustin, 5th from left: A. Phillip Randolph (president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), 6th from front left: John Lewis, (president of Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC), Center-7th from left: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Right of microphone stand: Coretta Scott King, second from right: Juanita Abernathy, wife of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who is behind to her right and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth) sing 'We Shall Overcome' at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)
Stephen F. Somerstein — Getty Images

“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.