Civil rights song ‘We Shall Overcome’ part of public domain

NASHVILLE — The civil rights anthem ‘‘We Shall Overcome,’’ which was quoted by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and made popular by folk singer Pete Seeger, has been declared a part of the public domain.

Ludlow Music, the song’s publisher, agreed in a New York federal court last week to back down on claims of copyright after losing a summary judgment in the case. The publisher said it agreed the melody and lyrics are ‘‘dedicated to the public domain.’’

The lawsuit was filed by the We Shall Overcome Foundation, a group that wanted to make a documentary about the song, and Butler Films, which produced the 2013 film ‘‘The Butler.’’


The origins of the song are unclear, but precursors outlined in the lawsuit include hymns and African-American spirituals.

associated press