Monday, 9 November 2009INDEX


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.

Monday, 9 November 2009INDEX