Lawyers seek to end We Shall Overcome legal row

Roger Waters covered We Shall Overcome in 2010
Roger Waters covered We Shall Overcome in 2010

Lawyers are battling to end the copyright protection for song We Shall Overcome to make it free for all to perform.

It became the anthem for the US civil rights movement and was sung by supporters of Martin Luther King Jr’s campaign against institutional racism – and was a famed rally cry at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.

We Shall Overcome was copyrighted as a “derivative work” after it was popularised by Pete Seeger and other artists that decade. Artists including Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and former Pink Floyd man Roger Waters have also covered the song in later years.

California-based group called the We Shall Overcome Foundation sought permission to include the song in a documentary, but it was rejected by Richmond Organisation and Ludlow Music, who threatened with a financial penalty if they went ahead.

Lawyers from Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman - the firm that previously argued for Happy Birthday to enter the public domain – have now taken up the case, claiming that licensing fees for We Shall Overcome have been “unlawfully demanded and extracted”.