The original French words were written in June 1871 by
Eugène Pottier (1816–1887, previously a member of the
 and were originally intended to be sung to the tune of "
 In 1888
Pierre De Geyter (1848–1932) set the earlier lyrics to a new melody, composed especially for Pottier's lyrics.
 De Geyter's melody was first publicly performed in July 1888,
 and soon thereafter Pottier's lyrics became closely associated with, and widely used with, De Geyter's new melody. Thus the Internationale gained an identity that was entirely distinct, and no longer in any way directly tied to the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.
In a successful attempt to save Pierre De Geyter's job as a woodcarver, the 6,000 leaflets printed by Lille printer Bolboduc only mentioned the French version of his family name (Degeyter). In 1904, Pierre's brother Adolphe was induced by the
Gustave Delory to claim copyright, so that the income of the song would continue to go to Delory's
French Socialist Party. Pierre De Geyter lost the first copyright case in 1914, but after his brother committed
suicide and left a note explaining the fraud, Pierre was declared the copyright owner by a court of appeal in 1922.
In 1972 "Montana Edition," owned by Hans R. Beierlein, bought the rights to the song for 5,000
Deutschmark, first for the territory of the former
West Germany, then in the former
East Germany, then worldwide. East Germany paid Montana Edition 20,000 DM every year for its rights to play the music. Pierre De Geyter died in 1932, causing the copyrights to expire in 2002.
 Luckhardt's German text is public domain since 1984.
As the "Internationale" music was published before 1 July 1909 outside the
United States of America, it is in the
public domain in the United States.
 As of 2013, Pierre De Geyter's music is also in the public domain in countries and areas whose
copyright durations are authors' lifetime plus 80 years or less.
 Due to France's wartime copyright extensions (prorogations de guerre),
SACEM claims that the music was still copyrighted in France until October 2014.
As Eugène Pottier died in 1887, his original French lyrics are in the public domain.
Gustave Delory once acquired the copyright of his lyrics through the songwriter G B Clement having bought it from Pottier's widow.