Monday, April 27, 2009


Jonathan Brind wrote this great comment on copyright

For all sorts of reasons copyright is really the domain of corporations not
artists. Taken to extremes it can also make the world mind manglingly
complex. Some architects have, for example, been known to say they own the
copyright of buildings. What about the telephone box in your shot. That was
designed. Shouldn't you pay a fee?

One fascinating example is Woody Guthrie's unofficial American anthem This
Land Is Your Land. Guthrie wrote:

"This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a
period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission,
will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish
it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we
wanted to do."

Guthrie published the song in 1945 and it had been around for several
years before that (the music was probably written by somebody else and
published earlier anyway). 59 years later
JibJab, a studio based in Los Angeles, achieved international acclaim
during the 2004 US presidential election when its video of George W. Bush
and John Kerry singing "This Land is Your Land" became one of the biggest
viral video hits in history up to that time.

What happened next was that a company claiming to own the copyright on
Guthrie's song said it was going to take legal action, despite the fact
that the cartoon contained a parody of the song. This legal action didn't
get far but most companies will reach for their solicitors as soon as there
is any mention of possible legal action. Lawyers, unlike many people in the
film industry, expect to get paid and paid a lot, so this makes even a
threat tiresomely expensive.

As the excellent Steal This Film points out copying in a digital age is
frighteningly easy. Just to put something online is to copy it. The only
way to preserve traditional copyright is to have an increasingly draconian
police state, snooping on all highways of communication and stamping out
illegal thought.

Those with business models based on achieving copyright for all displays
of their material should ask (a) is this practical? (b) is it moral? The
answers to these questions seem obvious to me.

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