Looks like the folks at Ludlow Music have dropped their lawsuit against JibJab over the parody version of “This Land Is Your Land” after lawyers for JibJab discovered the song is in the Public Domain:
While researching the case, the EFF discovered that Woody Guthrie published a songbook in 1945 that included “This Land Is Your Land.” 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.
When Guthrie published the songbook, that “started the clock ticking on the 28 years,” Schultz said. Guthrie never renewed it, meaning the terms of the copyright expired in 1973.
Ludlow, meanwhile, registered the song under copyright in 1956 as an original copyright registration, not the renewal. The company was apparently unaware that because Guthrie had already published the song, the terms of copyright began in 1945, not 1956, Schultz said.
“The clock starts ticking when either the papers are filed or you publish,” Schultz said.
Ludlow then renewed the copyright in 1984, which was 11 years too late, he said. The EFF found a copy of the songbook at the Library of Congress.
Oops! This is the sort of thing that happens when you get greedy. Had the folks at Ludlow not gotten their panties in a wad over the parody song no one would have bothered to look into their claim of copyright ownership and they could have continued to collect on it as they’ve been doing for years, but noooooo. They had to get all pissy and give someone a reason to take a closer look only to have it come out that they don’t have a valid claim to the copyright after all. It’ll be interesting to see if any lawsuits develop over past licensing payments that Ludlow may not have been legally entitled to.
So if you’ve been itching to do your own version of “This Land” you can go ahead and do so all you want. Hell, for that matter, you can perform the original version all you want because “This Land” really does belong to you and me now.