Arguments of originality and registration are not enough to save the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music from having to face a lawsuit. A group of plaintiffs cleared the first major hurdle in a lawsuit that aims to establish the unofficial anthem to the Civil Rights Movement is not really under copyright protection. A New York federal judge rejected a publisher’s bid to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that lyrics in the first verse of “We Shall Overcome” were copied from material in the public domain and that there has been a fraud on the US Copyright Office.
The defendants, the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music, have retained commercial control of the song since copyright registrations were made in the early 1960s. Royalties from the song are earmarked for the Highlander Research and Education Center to support art and research projects in the African-American community, as well as the preservation of Civil Rights Movement documents.