Oakland Symphony was forced to cancel its season but they've continued to rehearse through Zoom. In lieu of its regular in-person concert, they performed their version of "This Land is Your Land" and posted it on YouTube. Its conductor, Michael Morgan, says of the song choice, "It's often misinterpreted as just another patriotic ditty. The reputation of its composer, Woody Guthrie, is smoothed over and sanitized. But the fact is, it was written in 1940 when many patriotic songs seemed to either exclude or present a very narrow vision of what it was to be American. 'This Land is Your Land' comes out of the bedrock of the social justice movement. It was an anthem of inclusion when inclusion was not mainstream. This song is radical. Woody Guthrie was a socialist, if not a communist, and his song is for everybody..."
Yes, he's talking about the same Woody Guthrie who had a sticker on his guitar that read, "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS":
screengrab via Oakland Symphony/YouTube; image via United States Library of Congress/Wikipedia Read the rest
Woody Guthrie originally wrote "This Land Is Your Land" as a kind of screed against the exploitations of private property ownership. When he submitted the song for copyright, Guthrie allegedly wrote that it was, "Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do." Although the copyright should have expired in 1973, the actual ownership of the rights has long been contested.
More recently, the lawyers who successfully returned "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" into the the Public Domain tried to take a similar approach to win back "This Land Is Your Land" for the people. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well. From The New York Times:
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In the case, a young musical group called Satorii sued the song’s publishers, Ludlow Music and the Richmond Organization, after paying $45.50 for a license to release a cover version of “This Land Is Your Land,” which Guthrie wrote in 1940. In their complaint — filed by the same lawyers behind the “Happy Birthday” and “We Shall Overcome” suits — the group used a detailed timeline of decades-old paperwork and Guthrie’s own hand-decorated songbooks to argue that Guthrie had essentially forfeited his copyright to the song decades ago by failing to renew it properly.