Monday, 15 February 2010

Out-takes: copyright and crime

I've been getting into a daft habit of carefully making a note of news relevant to JSBlog, then forgetting to upload it. Purged from my organiser:

Men at Work plagiarised 'Down Under' riff ("Flute melody taken from 1935 'Kookaburra' children's song, Australian court rules", Kathy Marks, The Independent, 5 February 2010). This means Men at Work potentially owe millions to the copyright owners, Larrikin Music. See the previous Kookaburra fossil exposed for background. Personally I think the result stinks, and that the quotation in question, a tiny riff between verses, was nothing more than a nice homage to a tune that had become de facto public domain due to its obscure copyright status. Quoted in The Age, the founder of Larrikin Records and original owner of Larrikin Music, Warren Fahey, says exactly this:
He recommends the copyright owner, Larrikin Music, should "gift" the song to Australia, arguing that most Australians believe they already have public domain ownership of the song anyway.

"The past week has seen thousands of emails, letters to the editor, radio commentary and internet forums criticising the judgment," says Fahey, who sold Larrikin Music to Music Sales Corporation in 1988 and whose folk band is called the Larrikins.

"Many of these incorrectly criticise Larrikin Records and myself as the protagonist, asking, 'How could someone so dedicated to Australian music do such a thing?' The Larrikin brand has certainly been tarnished by what many see as opportunistic greed on behalf of Larrikin Music/Music Sales."
A "larrikin" is, incidentally, one who subscribes to Australia's folk tradition of anti-authoritarianism - see Larrikinism - and the opposite of a "wowser".

Harry Potter and the great Google onslaught ("The bunfight over Google's library project only serves to remind us that intellectual property battles are nothing new", Robert McCrum, The Observer, Sunday 14 February 2010): the always interesting McCrum writes about great intellectual property battles in history such as the first recognition of literary "piracy" in the 1660s, arguing in effect that these didn't kill literature in the past, so the disputed Google Library Project may have innovative effects we can't predict. See preview of Adrian John's book Piracy.

Forget 'serious' novels, I've turned to a life of crime ("Murder mysteries, once looked down on, are now fit for the literary elite", Stephanie Merritt, The Observer, 14 February 2010). Merritt argues the ... er ... merit of the crime genre as historical fiction. I thoroughly agree; one of the best historical novels I know is Peter Lovesey's murder mystery Wobble to Death, with its fascinating background in Victorian endurance races and their attendant corruption and strychnine-doping (see Strychnine - a lesser-known past).

This artwork was made by a killer. It is no less valid for that (Deborah Orr, The Independent, 11 April 2009): concerning the difficult issue of what we should feel about art made by murderers. In the literary field, she mentions the well-known case of William Chester Minor, a schizophrenic murderer who made thousands of contributions to the OED from his cell in Broadmoor. The excellent and prolific historical crime novelist Anne Perry, creator of the William Monk series, also springs to mind.

- Ray

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