Category Archives: lawsuits

The Copyright Law Is A Ass


Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, the Copyright and Patent Clause (or Patent and Copyright Clause), the Intellectual Property Clause and the Progress Clause, empowers the United States Congress:
“ To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Note the word “limited”.

The current law says that copyright is for the “life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978, was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date.”

I’d like to say that the continuing extensions of the copyright law is unconstitutional. I’d LIKE to say that, but I can’t, because the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 2003.

To be fair, this law is more or less consistent with the Berne convention, signed by the United States in 1988

But in a more fundamental way, there seems to be a gross lack of understanding about copyright generally. Copyright protection is not an absolute. People can use other people’s copyrighted materials all the time through fair use, use in reviews, parody.

An interesting take on copyright comes from Paul Rapp, intellectual property lawyer from around these parts. He is also F. Lee Harvey Blotto, drummer of the almost legendary band Blotto.

Web portals like YouTube are protected by the “safe harbor” provisions of a law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which says that YouTube generally doesn’t have to actively monitor what’s being posted on its site. Once the portal is informed that there’s infringing stuff posted, it has a duty to investigate and take down offending material. This merely reaffirms that it’s the copyright owners’ duty to police its copyright, not someone else’s. In other words, it’s Viacom’s job, not YouTube’s.

This makes perfect sense. Because often the copyright owner is fine that their stuff has been posted without permission. A few years ago I noticed that folks had posted Blotto’s old videos on YouTube. My reaction was “great, now I don’t have to do it.” I’d been meaning to do it myself but was too lazy to figure out how. We wanted the videos up, for whatever promotional value they might bring. Somebody even posted “Lifeguard” under the heading “Worst 80’s Video Ever.” It’s closing in on a quarter-million hits, and the comments are amazing. And I ain’t touchin’ it.

And I’m certainly not alone here. Lots of copyright owners turn a blind eye to “unauthorized” posts…

Several times a day someone sends me a YouTube link, usually of some old music video that’s brilliant, funny, or revealing, often all three at once. Does somebody own the copyrights to these things? Undoubtedly. Did they put them up themselves? Maybe, maybe not. And are they mad that their stuff’s on the internet? Probably not. They’re probably delighted.

So copyright, both in law and as a practical matter, is not as “obvious” or “simple” as it may appear.
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And speaking of intellectual property gone awry, I think it’s reprehensible that one company can “own” a patent on human genes and I was thrilled when the company Myriad lost a ruling over breast cancer-gene patents, a suit brought by the ACLU, plus the March of Dimes and a number of medical organizations.

ROG

C is for Cash

I felt that Johnny Cash was one of those characters that kept drifting in and out of my awareness. As a child, I was vaguely aware of him from his later 1950s like I Walk the Line (#17 pop, #6 country) and the even bigger pop hit Guess Things Happen That way (#11 pop, #8 country). 1963’s Ring of Fire was also a crossover hit.

Johnny Cash went through some commercially desolate years due in no small part to his drug use. Then in 1968, now clean, he decided to do a concert in Folsom Prison, California in January, which was released as an album in May of that year. Despite less than enthusiastic support of his record company, Columbia, the album became a big country hit. More surprisingly, it also became a crossover hit, getting up #13 on the pop charts. Jann Wenner, from a relatively new periodical called Rolling Stone, touted the album, which undoubtedly helped fuel its rise. Even more successful was his album At San Quentin, which spawned the #2 pop hit, A Boy Named Sue, penned by Shel Silverstein.

This led to Johnny getting a primetime show on ABC-TV for a couple years, featuring a wide range of artists including Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Arlo Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, Odetta, Minnie Pearl, Pete Seeger, and many more.

Of course, even success has its downside. Contrary to the legend about one of his signature songs, Johnny Cash had taken a Gordon Jenkins tune called Crescent City Blues and changed it to Folsom Prison Blues.

He told Sun Records what he’d done, and eventually Jenkins, who said he had no problem with it. The version in 1955 was a relatively minor hit but the 1968 live version on Columbia was massive, and Jenkins (apparently pushed by his publisher) sued Cash and received a settlement. There is an album called Johnny Cash: Roots and Branches; you can hear 30 seconds of Crescent City Blues here; you can also read an analysis of Folsom Prison’s most iconic line, “I shot a man in Reno” here. Somehow, this ripoff of an existing song didn’t bother me as much as others, especially given the fact that John had ‘fessed up.

Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin – Folsom Prison Blues
LINK

John continued with an up-and-down profile. He’d show up in supergroups such as the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson) in 1985 or the Class of ’55 (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison) in 1986; I have the latter on something called vinyl, BTW. But it wasn’t until a friend of mine sent me American Recording, the 1994 first album he performed produced by rock/hip hop producer Rick Rubin. The sparse sound was a revelation and I rediscovered Johnny Cash in that series of American albums: Unchained, Solitary Man, and The Man Comes Around, plus the posthumous A Hundred Highways and a boxed set. The defining song in his later years, of course was the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt.

Justin Timberlake, who beat out Johnny for a video award, said publicly that John should have one for Hurt and later conceived the posthumous video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

Johnny Cash died September 12, 2003, just months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash passed away.
ROG