A federal judge declared that a famous song about public property is still private property

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:

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.

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Woody Guthrie's 1943 New Year's Resolutions are a powerful reminder to "Keep the hope machine running."

I'd seen this before, but I was reminded of it when I saw Billy Bragg share a webcomic version of it on Facebook. But here are Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions from 1943. While they were written in the throes of World War II, I think we'd all do well by following their example every day and every year, but especially right now.

1. Work more and better 2. Work by a schedule 3. Wash teeth if any 4. Shave 5. Take bath 6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk 7. Drink very scant if any 8. Write a song a day 9. Wear clean clothes — look good 10. Shine shoes 11. Change socks 12. Change bed cloths often 13. Read lots good books 14. Listen to radio a lot 15. Learn people better 16. Keep rancho clean 17. Dont get lonesome 18. Stay glad 19. Keep hoping machine running 20. Dream good 21. Bank all extra money 22. Save dough 23. Have company but dont waste time 24. Send Mary and kids money 25. Play and sing good 26. Dance better 27. Help win war — beat fascism 28. Love mama 29. Love papa 30. Love Pete 31. Love everybody 32. Make up your mind 33. Wake up and fight

Dance better. Beat fascism. Keep the hope machine running. I think that pretty much covers everything.

Woody Guthrie’s Doodle-Filled List of 33 New Year’s Resolutions From 1943 Read the rest

How tragedies of the Great Depression influenced singer Woody Guthrie

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads

by Nick Hayes

Harry N. Abrams

16, 272 pages, 8.6 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches

$19 Buy a copy on Amazon

A graphic novel of the life and early career of singer Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads is a sepia and dusty brown, linocut illustrated graphic novel. It begins with harrowing tales of his youth – his mother burning his father with coal oil, resulting in her being shipped off to the Hospital For The Insane, the collapse of his Pampa hometown as the plummeting price of wheat ruined the local and national economy, and Guthrie traveling roads and hopping trains during the Great Depression. His encounters with snake oil salesmen and carnival acts, hobos, and migrant workers, as well as his exposure to the music of Cajuns, Native Americans, Xit cowboys, and Appalachian folksong performances at barn dances ultimately inspire him to take up the fiddle and write original tunes.

Along with Woody's story, the book provides a powerful backstory on the environmental conditions of the Dust Bowl region, including the displacement of Native Americans through the push of white settlers on native lands, agriculture techniques that resulted in the tearing up of the bluestem grasses to plant wheat, an unprecedented drought, and the glut of wheat causing the exodus of settlers to California. This all brings to life the tragic unraveling of the fragile Dust Bowl ecosystem and brings about the hardscrabble lives and dust-blown landscape that Guthrie integrates into his music. Read the rest