A Chicago-based lawyer writing about the copyright battles over songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "This Land is Your Land" came across my "Who Owns Folk Songs?" article (http://creekdontrise.com/folk_songs/who ... _songs.htm
) and contacted me to get my "take" on those issues for a legal journal. Of course if you drew a Venn diagram comparing lawyers with folk music aficionados, the intersection would probably be pretty small. But among that group, I could be almost famous in a few weeks!
While I'm on the subject, even if Woody used a prexisting tune for "This Land is Your Land," his lyrics deserve a copyright and Woody's heirs deserve the income at least as much, as, say, Walt Disney's heirs deserve the income from the first Mickey Mouse movie.
The authorship of We Shall Overcome has been argued in many places, but Pete Seeger wasn't trying to cheat anybody when he registered the copyright under the name of the person he thought most responsible for the version he learned and sang. He never received a penny for it, and he was trying to keep the song from being used in advertising to promote some objectionable product.
If you think that's out of the question, the opening line of "City Of New Orleans" was borrowed for a laxative commercial about fifteen years ago. There were shots of happy people throwing up the shades or stepping outside to see the sunrise, while the line "Good morning, America, how are you?" were sung. The subtext was that they were happy because they had just had a satisfying bowel movement. (Come to think of it, I almost had a bowel movement when I saw that commercial.) Now THAT use was probably negotiated with Steve Goodman's widow, and may have helped with the bills, so it was her choice. But it shows the possibilities.
Say, Donald Trump using "This Land is Your Land" at his rallies, or Merrill Lynch or Nike or Apple using "We Shall Overcome" in their Superbowl ads. (Speaking of bowel movements.)