Intellectual Property & Public Domain Protection
Wolf Haldenstein has distinguished itself as a leader in the area of copyright law, intellectual property and public domain protection, which is particularly concentrated on determining where the boundaries of ownership and licensing intersect with fair use and the public domain.
The Firm has focused its recent efforts on identifying creative works that hold deep cultural value and bringing them into the public domain, thereby ensuring the rights of artists and individuals to leverage that value through their own creative endeavors.
Wolf Haldenstein put itself at the forefront of intellectual property jurisprudence by initiating a groundbreaking class action over a disputed copyright, Good Morning To You Productions Corp. v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., No. CV 13-04460-GHK (MRWx) (C.D. Cal.), which successfully challenged the copyright claimed on “Happy Birthday to You,” the world’s most famous song. The Firm received worldwide acclaim for its trailblazing work in the Happy Birthday litigation, which returned the song to the public domain. Global media, such as USA Today, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Billboard, Rolling Stone, The Chicago Tribune, NPR, NBC News, CBS Nightly News, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, celebrated the historic results achieved by the Firm.
Wolf Haldenstein’s Intellectual Property and Public Domain Protection practice area achieved another major victory when we returned “We Shall Overcome” to the public domain. According to the Library of Congress “We Shall Overcome” is “the most powerful song of the 20th century.” In We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Organization, Inc. (TRO Inc.), et al., No. CV 16-2725-DLC (S.D.N.Y.), Wolf Haldenstein argued that the defendants’ 1960 and 1963 copyrights to “We Shall Overcome,” a song that was in the public domain at least as early as 1948, were invalid. In a September 2017 ruling, the Honorable Denise Cote, United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, agreed. In a thorough and well-reasoned decision, Judge Cote granted partial summary judgment for the Plaintiffs, ruling that the Plaintiffs “have shown that the Defendants’ 1960 and 1963 applications for a copyright in the Song were significantly flawed.” Judge Cote ruled that changes to the melody and iconic lyrics in the 1960 and 1963 versions, compared to the work already in the public domain, were so trivial and insignificant that they were not “original” and therefore are not entitled to copyright protection. Judge Cote’s historic ruling means that “We Shall Overcome,” America’s most powerful song, now joins “Happy Birthday,” the world’s most popular song, in the public domain.
Wolf Haldenstein is presently litigating another important copyright class action against the same company that wrongfully owned the copyright to “We Shall Overcome,” in Saint-Amour, et al. v. The Richmond Organization, Inc. (TRO Inc.), et al., No. CV 16-4464-DAB (S.D.N.Y.). In this matter, Wolf Haldenstein is challenging the copyright claimed on “This Land is Your Land,” another one of the nation’s most famous and important folk songs.
The Intellectual Property & Public Domain Protection practice is fully supported by the Firm’s Business Practice group, dovetailing and leveraging our skills and experience in complex class actions, jury trials, and business litigation to protect our clients, their intellectual property and the public domain.