The makers of a documentary film filed a class-action suit in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday challenging the claimed copyright for the song “We Shall Overcome,” claiming that it is in the public domain.
Lawyers for the group, the We Shall Overcome Foundation, said the song had its roots in old African-American spirituals and the American labor movement, and was adopted as an anthem by the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The lawsuit alleges that two Manhattan companies, The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music, have unlawfully collected millions of dollars in fees since registering a copyright on the song in 1960.
The foundation said it wanted the copyright declared invalid because it was refused permission to use the song in its documentary, and risked a large financial penalty if it used “We Shall Overcome” without permission.
The Richmond Organization did not respond to an email late Tuesday.