LOS ANGELES - Lawyers are seeking to put “We Shall Overcome,” the emblematic song of the US civil rights movement, in the public realm after successfully fighting the copyright of “Happy Birthday to You.” The We Shall Overcome Foundation, a California-based Christian group active with street children in Brazil, filed a lawsuit as it worked on a documentary that would include the song. The foundation said that two New York-based publishers, the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music Inc., denied the right to use the song with the group at risk of paying a penalty of up to $150,000 if they violated the copyright.

“According to the Library of Congress it’s the most important song of the 20th century. It’s the unofficial anthem to the civil rights movement,” said Randall Newman, a partner at firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman, which is pursuing the case. “We still hear people sing it in Congress. Bernie Sanders recorded it and sings it as part of his campaign,” Newman told AFP on Wednesday, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate. The song - with the chorus that ends “Oh deep in my heart / I do believe / We shall overcome some day” - was commonly sung by protesters in the non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. against institutional racism.