Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who's the author?

From Scoodleyweb:
I don’t think I have any words for this. Star Trek the Animated Series mashed up with William Shatner singing Pulp’s common people, as Kirk/Spock slash fiction. So many memes tied up in a nice bow. Exquisite. Simply Exquisite.

And if you wonder where the title of the post, "In that case, I'll have a Rum and Coke," comes from, you should
look here and
ask yourself, who wrote "Rum and Coca-Cola?" Morey Amsterdam, U.S. copyright holder, who slightly changed some lyrics to a song he heard in Trinidad? Lord Invader, who put new lyrics to a song written by Lionel Belasco in the early 1900s? Lionel Belasco, who adapted his music from a folk song from the 1800s?

And how far back does the thread stretch from there? Who originally wrote the music that would evolve into "Rum and Coca-Cola"?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Course packs in the internet age.

Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Sage Publications sued the Georgia State University in federal court in April, arguing that course readings that professors and librarians disseminated online infringed publishers' copyrights." The complaint is here (pdf).

I am sympathetic to the view of the that the posting of copyrighted materials without permission for educational purposes would be beneficial for students. As the editors of the UCLA Daily Bruin write: "With increased tuition fees, living expenses and constantly looming debt, the last thing students want to dish out more money for is a heavy and overly expensive textbook that they will open once over the course of the quarter to read one paragraph."

But there is serious legal doubt to the legitimacy of the position of Georgia State in the lawsuit. In Princeton University Press v. Document Services, Inc., 99 F.3d 1381 (6th Cir. 1996) , cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1156 (1997),
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that photocopied "course packs" containing excerpts from copyrighted materials that sound very similar to those being posted on line by your university did NOT constitute fair use. Though there are many ways in which the internet changes the calculus one must apply to questions of fair use, I don't see any particular way Georgia State's actions differ from those of the University of Michigan professors actions in making available to their students photocopied coursepacks consisting of collections of excerpts from copyrighted texts.

Of course, the federal courts in Georgia are not bound to follow the Sixth Circuit's decision in Princeton University Press, but that decision has not proven to be a particularly controversial one with respect to its doctrine. As Stephana Colbert and Oren Griffin explain in "The Impact of Fair Use on Higher Education: a Necessary Exception?", 62 Albany L. Rev. 437, 454-55 (1998): "
the Congress that passed the Copyright Act in 1976 would pretty clearly have thought it unfair for a commercial copyshop to appropriate as much as 30 percent of a copyrighted work without paying the license fee demanded by the copyright holder . . . ."

Neverthless, the issue is "[o]ne of the most contentious issues between libraries and publishers in the digital age . . . ." As Colbert and Griffin point out:
T]he changes in technology and teaching practices that have occurred over the last two decades might conceivably make Congress more sympathetic to the defendants' position today. If the law on this point is to be changed, however, we think the change should be made by Congress and not by the courts.

Thus, while suggesting that [Michigan Document Services had] has legislative support for its conduct, the court left open the possibility that a different result might be forthcoming should Congress revisit the copyright statute. Certainly, technology has had a dramatic impact on virtually every segment of American society, and to think that the application of American copyright law has been unaffected by the advances in technology since 1976 is naive.
See also Melamud, Pursuing Fair Use, Libraries, and Electronic Reserves, 92 Law Libr. J. 157 (2000)(pdf).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What can you do? Well, you don't have to send a takedown notice or sue.

From Techdirt, a question -- who will be the first to sue Girl Talk? I don't think it will be LL Cool J -- and mention of a small industry of "sample trolls":
[W]ith over 300 samples used on the album, there's almost certainly going to be a few who get upset [by the Girl Talk album]. . . . [T]he woman in charge of the copyright for the band the Guess Who is planning to go after Girl Talk, noting that: "We'll chase it down. What more can you do?" Well, actually, there's plenty more that you can do -- such as recognizing that no one who hears the music on Girl Talk is going to see that as a replacement to the Guess Who's album -- and, if anything, it might entice new fans to the original.

But, eventually a legal battle is going to pop up -- and while Gillis and his label are banking on "fair use" claims to protect them, the history of court cases on this particular question have shown the courts (wrongly) seem to count nearly any require a license. This has created a small industry of "sample trolls" getting the rights to various songs (often via very questionable means) and then suing anyone who samples just a few notes from it. It seems quite likely that sooner or later someone is going to go after Gillis for this

Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Coldplay original?

This whole question of originality can make one's head spin. It may not help Coldplay's situation that Chris Martin has been quoted in the past as saying "We're definitely good, but I don't think you can say we're that original," he notes. "I regard us as being incredibly good plagiarists."

Addendum, from Techdirt:
[T]he guy from Creaky Boards later not only retracted his accusation, but suggested that perhaps both bands were actually "inspired" by the "Fairy Theme" in the Legends of Zelda. In a world of strict copyright, of course, that might make both songs "illegal," though I doubt anyone would think that would be the optimal outcome.

. . . The thing is, part of the point we keep trying to make around here is that, for the most part, that's true of just about everyone. It's the overly aggressive use of copyright law that prevents that sort of "goodness" from showing up. Oh, and it's also worth mentioning, that this little story has definitely increased the profile of The Creaky Boards -- proving one of the points we recently made about plagiarism. Even if the plagiarist is "bigger" than you, the original creator can use that to their advantage as well.