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This Land is Your Land
History | Lyrics | Woody Gunthrie
"This Land is Your Land" is one of the United States's most famous folk songs, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940. It was originally penned in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". Guthrie considered that song unrealistic and complacent, and was tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio. Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses that often do not appear in recordings or publications.
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.
In the original version of "This Land is Your Land" Guthrie protested class inequality with the verse,
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
As I went walking, I saw a sign there;
Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944, and first published it in 1945, in a mimeographed booklet of ten songs that contains typed lyrics and hand drawings. The booklet was sold for 25¢, and "Copyright 1945" was written on the cover.
The first known professionally printed publication was in 1956 by Ludlow Music (now a unit of The Richmond Organization), which administered the publishing rights to Guthrie's tune. Ludlow later issued versions with piano and guitar accompaniments. A version with the more political "no trespassing" and "relief office" verses was published in 1972.
In 1986, Bruce Springsteen released a live cover of the song on his box set Live/1975-85. He had been playing the song, prefacing it with the story of its origin, throughout his Born in the U.S.A. tour.
George H. W. Bush used This Land as a campaign song in his runs for the Presidency, perhaps an unusual choice for a Republican, considering its socialist origins.
In 2004, the Web site JibJab featured a parody of the song, resulting in the Richmond Organization threatening legal action  (the parody featured John Kerry and George W. Bush singing altered lyrics to the song). At this point, it was noticed that the copyright to the original 1945 publication had expired in 1973, when it was not renewed as then required by copyright law. The Richmond organization settled with Jibjab shortly thereafter. It still, however, claims copyright on other versions of the song, such as those appearing in the 1956 and later publications. Legally, such claims only apply to original elements of the song that were not in the public domain version.
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