Although it gets very technical and boring and rife with legalese, the issue of copyright has very real ramifications for every one of us: the further copyright is extended, the smaller becomes the public domain, the open repository of our public culture. Here's a specific example for MLK Jr. day.
"We Shall Overcome" is the song most associated with King's civil rights movement, it was created out of the - can you guess? - public domain thusly:
- "This song was originally one of two African American Spirituals: 'I'll Overcome Some Day' or 'I'll be All Right.' In 1946, several hundred employees of the American Tobacco Company in Charleston, South Carolina were on strike. They sang on the picket line to keep their spirits. Lucille Simmons started singing the song on the picket line and changed one important word from 'I' to 'we.' Zilphia Horton learned it when a group of strikers visited the Highland Fold School, the Labor Education Center in Tennessee. She taught it to me and we published it as WE SHALL OVERCOME in our songletter, People's Songs Bulletin. In 1952, I taught it to Guy Carawan and Frank Hamilton. Guy introduced the song to the founding convention of SNCC (student non-violent Coordinating Committee) in North Carolina. It swept the country." -PETE SEEGER
A simlar version of the story here:
- Lyrics derived from Charles Tindley's gospel song "I'll Overcome Some Day" (1900), and opening and closing melody from the 19th-century spiritual "No More Auction Block for Me" (a song that dates to before the Civil War). According to Professor Donnell King of Pellissippi State Technical Community College (in Knoxville, Tenn.), "We Shall Overcome" was adapted from these gospel songs by "Guy Carawan, Candy Carawan, and a couple of other people associated with the Highlander Research and Education Center, currently located near Knoxville, Tennessee. I have in my possession copies of the lyrics that include a brief history of the song, and a notation that royalties from the song go to support the Highlander Center."