There is a lot of talk right now about the recent settlement of the case surrounding Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." (See EFF, who was co-counsel, for example.)
This Wired article is really useful in the details. According to the article, the case turned on the fact that Guthrie published the work in 1945, instead of the first publication being in 1956 with Ludlow. That would put it in the public domain. Guthrie never renewed the 1945 copyright (it would have expired anyway in 1973, after 28 additional years if it had been renewed). Ludlow, thinking they were the first to copyright it in 1956, renewed it but 11 years too late.
According to the article the parties settled, with Jibjab agreeing to donate 20% net proceeds to the Woodie Guthrie Foundation.
What is interesting is that the article ends with the comment from a Ludlow attorney about the 1945 songbook: "I've seen no indication that this was done on a large scale, which would have constituted a publication under the copyright act," LiCalsi said." Is this an accurate measurement? Why are we talking about scale? I know that sometimes publication does not occur, i.e. gallary showing of art, rather than more public museum, but once a work is published, doesn't that mean that it is published? I'm confused. The King case, where this was an issue,whether publication occurred on "I have a Dream speach," concerned handing out copies to the media, seems entirely different. Here there is an actual publication. Anyway, maybe it was just one attempt by Ludlow to have bargaining power.