Pete Seeger

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Last Friday, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered that the first and most famous verse of the Civil Rights era anthem "We Shall Overcome" belongs in the public domain.

Plaintiffs in the case had asked the judge to negate a half-century-old copyright by four songwriters, including the late Pete Seeger.