July 29, 2004 | By Fred von Lohmann

Props to The Carter Family

Turns out Woody Guthrie lifted the melody of "This Land Is Your Land" essentially note-for-note from "When the World's on Fire," a song recorded by country/bluegrass legends, The Carter Family, ten years before Guthrie wrote his classic song. Here's a short snippet (380k mp3) of the song (the song can be found on the box set, The Carter Family: 1927-34). You don't need to be a musicologist to hear what we're talking about.

Now we've got nothing against Woody's borrowing. In fact, it's a part of the "folk process" that Woody himself championed. I can't imagine that The Carter Family minded.

But in the letter threatening copyright litigation over JibJab's animated political parody, "This Land," Ludlow's lawyer goes out of his way to attack JibJab for copying "the entire melody, harmony, rhythm and structure of the [sic] Mr. Guthrie's song."

Er, sorry there Ludlow, but actually, the entire melody, harmony, rhythm, and structure of "This Land Is Your Land" doesn't belong to you. And I'd like to think Mr. Guthrie would never have claimed credit for them, if he were still alive to ask.


Deeplinks Topics

Stay in Touch

NSA Spying

EFF is leading the fight against the NSA's illegal mass surveillance program. Learn more about what the program is, how it works, and what you can do.

Follow EFF

The clock is ticking on Section 215 sunset, but the Senate is in stalemate on NSA spying powers: https://eff.org/r.tpwa

May 22 @ 10:58pm

BREAKING: At the behest of @SenateMajLdr, the Senate will meet Sunday, May 31st in the afternoon, mere hours before Section 215 expires.

May 22 @ 10:20pm

BREAKING: Senator Rand Paul objecting to even one more day of extending Section 215.

May 22 @ 10:08pm
JavaScript license information