Since 1960, the music publishing company, Ludlow Music, Inc., which is owned and controlled by New York based, The Richmond Organization (TRO), has claimed ownership and control of all legal and commercial rights to the anthem of the African American Civil Rights Movement and globally revered freedom song known as, "We Shall Overcome". -A song which the US Library of Congress has named, "The Most Powerful Song of the Twentieth Century"
The 1960 and 1963, US copyrights of , "We Shall Overcome" were registered by Ludlow Music, Inc. which is owned and controlled by, "The Richmond Organization" (TRO). Folk singers, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton and Zilphia Horton were listed as "adapters" on the 1960 copyright. Following Martin Luther King's "March on Washington",folk singer, Pete Seeger's name was added to the 1963 copyright as an additional "adapter".
In their respective copyright applications, both of the 1960 and 1963 copyrights are listed, not as original works, but as "arrangements" of a "previously registered work" entitled, according to the applications; "I'll Overcome".
US Copyright Law defines "musical arrangements" as "Derivative works".
The 1960 and 1963 US Copyrights of, We Shall Overcome, which were registered by Ludlow Music, Inc. et-al, are legally considered, "Derivative Works".
United States Copyright Law States:
Right to Prepare Derivative Works
"Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, an adaptation of that work. The owner of a copyright is generally the author or someone who has obtained the exclusive rights from the author. In any case where a copyrighted work is used without the permission of the copyright owner, copyright protection will not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully. The unauthorized adaption of a work may constitute copyright infringement. "
Although required by US Copyright law prior to registering their "adaptations" of We Shall Overcome, no authorization from the author of the "previously registered" work was secured by Ludlow Music, Inc., The Richmond Organization, Guy Carawan, Pete Seeger, Frank Hamilton or Zilphia Horton (Deceased in 1956). This fact alone, according to US Copyright Law, renders NO COPYRIGHT PROTECTION to the 1960 and 1963 Ludlow copyrights of "We Shall Overcome".
The 1960 and 1963 Ludlow et-al US Copyright applications expressly exclude, "Verse-1" from the "New Matter", which PETE SEEGER, GUY CARAWAN, FRANK HAMILTON and ZILPHIA HORTON (Deceased in 1956) claim to have added to the "previously registered" song.
The required sheet music "deposit copies" which accompanied the 1960 and 1963 Ludlow copyright applications for We Shall Overcome, list "Verse 1" as the "previously registered" matter. "Verse 1" is expressly listed in these applications as follows:
"We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome,
We Shall Overcome Someday-- Oh
Deep In My Heart, I Do Believe,
We Shall Overcome Someday".
For all intents and purposes, not unlike the principal stanza to the popular song, "Happy Birthday to You", the world universally recognizes the aforementioned, "Verse 1" to be the essence of the song known as, "We Shall Overcome", from which the song derives its full meaning, narrative and purpose.
Prior to registration, as evidenced by their 1960 and 1963 US Copyright applications, The Richmond Organization (TRO), as owners of Ludlow Music, Inc., along with Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton and Zilphia Horton, demonstrated prior knowledge that they did not own rights to "Verse 1" of We Shall Overcome.
In 1960 and 1963, Ludlow Music, Inc. / The Richmond Organization et-al registered Copyrights of We Shall Overcome with knowledge that they had not received express authorization from the author of the "pre-existing work" to create or register their derivative work.
Ludlow Music, Inc; The Richmond Organization, et-al registered the 1960 and 1963 copyrights with the WILLFUL INTENT to engage in business activity for profit.
The US music publishing industry is valued in excess of 2.2 BILLION dollars annually. The Richmond Organization (TRO) has unmatched power and market influence in the music publishing industry.
As of April, 2016 Irwin Z. Robinson is the Vice President of Industry Affairs for Cromwell Music / TRO. He also serves concurrently, as of April 2016, as the Chairman of the Board for the National Music Publisher's Association" (NMPA) and board of directors of the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (A.S.C.A.P.) . (http://nmpa.org/about/irwin-z-robinson/)
The NMPA is arguably the most powerful music publishing lobbying organization in the world and represents the top five music publishing companies; Sony/ATV, Universal, BMG, Warner/ Chappell and Kobalt. Collectively these industry giants control approximately 11 million songs worldwide. According to, OpenSecrets.org, In 2015, the NMPA spent 715,000 on their US lobbying efforts.
For more than half a century, TRO's enormous industry presence has allowed it to openly claim and assert rights to, We Shall Overcome and collect massive royalties and fees from its exploitation.
The founder of The Richmond Organization, Howie Richmond, was also the co-founder of the, Songwriter's Hall Of Fame (SHOF). As of April 2016, The SHOF website lists Seeger as an SHOF inductee but also states:
"Pete Seeger has always been a socially conscious songwriter. Inspired by the movement, Seeger wrote, We Shall Overcome based on an old spiritual."
Based on the facts listed above, We Shall Overcome Foundation holds that, since 1960, The Richmond Organization, as owner of Ludlow Music, Inc. has illegitimately and unlawfully claimed legal and commercial rights and control to "Verse 1" of, We Shall Overcome. For more than half a century they have asserted their considerable market power and influence to commit willful copyright infringement and fraud. By applying financial intimidation, they have collected millions of US dollars, both nationally and internationally, in royalties and license fees for the song's use in television, films, music recordings and public performances. They have also exerted their centralized organization by denying and severely restricting the use of, We Shall Overcome by filmmakers.
One disturbing example of how TRO flexed its industry muscle to exploit illigitimate fees from the use of, We Shall Overcome is the 2013 film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (LDTB). Directed by, Lee Daniels, LDTB was based on a story about the African-American Civil Rights Movement as seen through the eyes of a White House butler. In 2012, one of the film's film producers, Simone Sheffield had a run-in with,The Richmond Organization when TRO demanded that the producers of LDTB pay $100,000 for the use of "Verse 1" in the film. -A verse that, as you now know TRO has never owned. When told by Sheffield that this fee was absurd and that; "We Shall Overcome is the blood, sweat and tears of the film expressed through the Civil Rights Movement", Larry Richmond--President of The Richmond Organization, responded thusly:
"There are many other songs associated with the Civil Rights Movement which you could use in place of We Shall Overcome if circumstances are such that you cannot afford to pay appropriate license fees. -Larry Richmond"
In the end, so as not to endanger the film's release with the threat of a potential lawsuit, the producers of LDTB payed $15,000 under protest, for a three second clip of We Shall Overcome. --A clip which, for all intents and purposes, is indiscernible in the film. Not exactly 'blood, sweat and tears'.
So then, if neither Ludlow Music, Inc., The Richmond Organization, Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton or Zilphia Horton own, We Shall Overcome, who DOES?
YOU DO. I DO. WE DO!
Although hidden for half a century, the evidence has now been unearthed and it is overwhelmingly and abundantly clear. We Shall Overcome is not now, nor has it ever been the exclusive property of Ludlow Music, Inc., The Richmond Organization, Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton or Zilphia Horton. We Shall Overcome belongs in the Public Domain for all the world to sing, record, publish and perform without cost.
So then, if not Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton or Zilphia Horton, who is the original author of, We Shall Overcome?
Rev. Mother, Louise Shropshire
is the original author of,
We Shall Overcome.
In May of 2013, in a written response to a legal challenge of their copyright of We Shall Overcome by the family of Louise Shropshire, Paul Licalsi--attorney for The Richmond Organization wrote the following:
'We Will Overcome' [as taught to Pete Seeger by Zilphia Horton in 1947] is the precursor of 'We Shall Overcome' which was copyrighted in 1960."
In conducting research for his book, We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song On The Devil's Tongue, which describes in extraordinary detail just how the misappropriation of Louise Shropshire's sacred hymn was carried out, author, Isaias Gamboa discovered a 1947 recording of Zilphia Horton (listed as one of the adapters of We Shall Overcome) singing a song she called, "We Will Overcome".
Upon immediately recognizing the striking resemblance to Louise Shropshire's hymn, "If My Jesus Wills" (composed between,1932 and 1942) and Horton's performance of, "We Will Overcome", Gamboa sent the recording and sheet music to two independent musicologists. He then, independently asked each of the experts to transcribe the recording of Horton's, "We Will Overcome" (WWO), then conduct a musicological comparison between the WWO transcription and the US Copyright Office deposit Copy of Louise Shropshire's, "If My Jesus Wills".
The reports and subsequent conclusions, drawn by both experts leave no doubt that Louise Shropshire is the previously unrecognized, "original author" of We Shall Overcome. The results affirm that Shropshire's sacred hymn, "If My Jesus Wills" aka "I'll Overcome"--composed between 1932 and 1942 and copyrighted in 1954, is the direct precedent to "We Will Overcome" as sung by Zilphia Horton in 1947.
Below is a partial list of evidence that supports these facts:
1. Zilphia Horton's 1947 recording of "We Will Overcome".
2. Transcription of Zilphia Horton;s 1947 recording of, "We Will Overcome".
3. Douglass Easterling's musicological comparison of Zilphia Horton's 1947 recording of "We Will Overcome" and the U.S. Library of Congress deposit copy of Louise Shropshire's, If My Jesus Wills.
4. Stephen Goukas' musicological comparison of Zilphia Horton's 1947 recording of "We Will Overcome" and the U.S. Library of Congress deposit copy of Louise Shropshire's, If My Jesus Wills.
5. U.S. Library of Congress deposit copy of Louise Shropshire's, If My Jesus Wills.
6. Performance by the Azuza Pacific University Gospel Choir of Louise Shropshire's, "If My Jesus Wills" aka "I'll Overcome"
7. Performance by former members of Louise Shropshire's, "Rosebud Choir" Gospel Choir singing the "Morning Star" arrangement of, "If My Jesus Wills" aka "I'll Overcome".
8. Performance by former members of an African-American mass choir singing a traditional arrangement of, "If My Jesus Wills" aka "I'll Overcome".