Music publisher Ludlow Music, Inc., has officially backed down on its threats against web animation studio JibJab Media Inc. over the widely circulated "This Land" animated parody lampooning President Bush and Senator Kerry. JibJab had responded to Ludlow's threats by engaging the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to file suit on its behalf in San Francisco on July 29, 2004, seeking judicial confirmation that JibJab's work was a protected "fair use" and did not infringe Ludlow's copyrights.
During the course of investigating the case, EFF learned that "This Land is Your Land," the classic Woody Guthrie song, is part of the public domain and has been for several decades.
EFF's investigation revealed that "This Land is Your Land" appears to have been in the public domain since the early 1970s. Woody Guthrie wrote his classic American song in 1940, when the copyright laws granted a copyright term of 28 years, renewable once for an additional 28. According to EFF, the initial copyright term was triggered when Guthrie sold his first versions of the song as sheet music in 1945. The copyright on the song then ran out when Ludlow failed to renew its registration in 1973. Ludlow believes its copyright -- initially filed in 1956 and renewed in 1984 -- remains valid and disputes EFF's claims.
"We believe that Guthrie's classic tune, 'This Land Is Your Land,' belongs to all of us now, just like Amazing Grace and Beethoven's symphonies" said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney with EFF. "The idea of copyright law is that, after a time, every work comes back into the hands of the public, where it can be reused, recycled, made part of new creativity without having to pay a fee or call in the lawyers. That's a great thing, the real genius of copyright."
JibJab dismissed its suit against Ludlow. As part of the settlement of the case, JibJab will remain free to continue distributing the "This Land" animation without further interference from Ludlow.