Happy 100th, Woody

Today would have been Woody Guthrie’s one hundredth birthday. To celebrates, below is a link to a PDF of a song sheet of the public domain version of “This Land Is Your Land.”

PDF of This Land Is Your Land: public domain version

It’s sized to fit on half of a standard 8-1/2×11 inch sheet, which means it will fit into most orders of service. You will have to print and trim the sheet before you use it. If you want just the lyrics, the public domain version lyrics are easily obtained on Wikipedia.

“But,” you say, “isn’t ‘This Land’ a copyright-protected song?” Quick answer: No, not the version he published in 1945….

Longer answer: Woody Guthrie wrote his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” in 1940. It was originally written as a response to “God Bless America,” which was getting a lot of radio air play at that time. In fact, an early working title was “God Blessed America (for Me)” (Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone (rev. ed., ed. Michael Miller and Sarah A. Elisabeth [New York: Sing Out Publications/Norton, 2009], p. 142).

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, based on research they carried out in 2004, Guthrie first published the song in 1945 in a mimeographed version, finally registering the copyright in 1956. In 2004, the copyright was held by Ludlow Music, which renewed the copyright in 1984, presumably based on their understanding that the original 28-year copyright term began when Guthrie registered the song. However, the copyright term began with the first publication in 1945, which means the copyright expired in 1973, 11 years after the original copyright expired. (In their publications, Ludlow now claims they renewed the copyright “1970-1972,” but the Electronic Frontier Foundation research with the U.S. Copyright Office showed that Ludlow renewed in 1984.)

In other words, the 1945 version of “This Land Is Your Land” entered the public domain in 1973, and it is therefore legal to use it in your congregation’s services. The later versions, with any other verses (including the verses about the no trespassing sign and the relief office), are protected under copyright, and if you want to print or record them you should purchase a license.

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