Blurred Lines and Word Crimes

American copyright laws are absurd. Weird Al Yankovic, in “Word Crimes,” can parody Robin Thicke’s (with Pharrell) “Blurred Lines” but Thicke and Pharrell cannot base their own song on songs of the past without an explicit financial relationship. In other words, their creativity is controlled by money, as was affirmed by a jury yesterday:

As news of the ruling spread Tuesday afternoon, some legal experts expressed worry about the precedent it set. Lawrence Iser, an intellectual property lawyer in Los Angeles who was not involved in the case, called it “a bad result.”

“It will cause people who want to want to evoke the past to perhaps refrain from doing so,” Mr. Iser said. “Rather than helping to progress the arts, it is a step backward.”

George Clinton, the legendary leader of Parliament/Funkadelic and whose work has influenced the sound of hip hop for decades, tweeted his support for Thicke.  He, perhaps, understands that all art is derivative.

What started in England little more than 300 years ago as protection for writers lasting 13 years–if they wanted it–and renewable by the author once has turned into an icon for greed, one benefiting not art but corporate coffers and the heirs of artists. In the U.S. Constitution, copyright (and the protection of intellectual property in general) has a restrictive rationale: “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.” Our Intellectual Property laws now go far beyond that. In fact, they have upset the balance between protection of the artist and protection of future artists implied in the Constitution, stultifying creativity through fear of lawsuit.

Current practice, and the unwillingness to define “fair use” of copyrighted material, has an impact on the classroom, too, one that will only increase as copyright holders try to “monetize” the use of their material in school environments, something that has been pretty well left alone–until now.

Will this absurdity ever end? Will we manage to return IP ownership back to its original intent? I doubt it. The intentions of the Founders only count when used to stop progress. Here, they clearly wanted to promote it.

2 thoughts on “Blurred Lines and Word Crimes

  1. Interesting to me that Patent Law allows only 20 years, whereas copyright can extend for over a century. I blame it all on the Mouse (which should be used as the official icon of corporatization of artistic effort (oh wait, we STILL can not use this without violating copyright). See http://artlawjournal.com/mickey-mouse-keeps-changing-copyright-law/.

    Interestingly, Ravel’s Bolero (written in the same year as the creation of MM (1928) will go into public domain 3 years before MM (2020 vs 2023).

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