“This Land is Your Land” Will Remain Private Property

In an order signed on February 28, a federal judge ruled that the song “This Land is Your Land” or “This Land” will remain privately owned.

In 2016, a musical group called Satorii filed a complaint against Ludlow Music and the Richmond Organization after paying $45.50 for a compulsory license to create a cover of “This Land.” They claimed The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music did not own a valid copyright to the song, that “This Land” should be in the public domain, and unlawful licensing fees should be returned. Ludlow Music and the Richmond Organization are represented by Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt. The members of Satorii, James Saint-Amour, and Alena Ivleva, are represented by Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.

The lyrics of the song were written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and published in 1945. Satorii claimed the song was copyrighted in 1945 by Guthrie and so Ludlow Music’s copyright of the song in 1956 would have been unlawful and the 1945 copyright would be expired leaving the song in the public domain. Judge P. Kevin Castel in the Southern District Court of New York who ruled in the case did not determine whether the song should still be copyrighted or not, instead, he ruled that there was no legal dispute because Satorii already paid the fee and could use the song as he wanted.

The Order said Satorii wanted to create a song and a music video with the same lyrics as “This Land” but with a different melody, “however, they fear enforcement of the defendants’ purported copyrights.” In March of 2019, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts allowed Satorii to pursue the copyright claim, but in April the Defendant’s refunded the $45.50 fee and entered a “covenant not to sue” over the use of the song.

Mark C. Rifkin, who represented Satorii, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the court’s decision, which gave the defendants unfair veto power to stop this meritorious case from proceeding. We are considering how best to continue to pursue these important issues.”