Inquiries into the early years of SJI
Showing posts with label Mickey Mouse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mickey Mouse. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yet another article about copyright

How long can you own a song?
image © Robert W Harwood  ; )
Writing about a song like "St. James Infirmary" inevitably leads one to consider the nature of copyright, including how copyright law relates to societal well-being. This is because SJI never had an original composer, and yet was saddled by copyright restrictions for decades. Those with a financial interest in copyright generally argue that its protection should be extended in order to protect the creative community. The artist is an original talent, this argument often goes, who should be rewarded; that will stimulate others to contribute their original creations.

But there are no original creations.

In January 2016 the "Association of Research Libraries" published a document illustrating where many creative ideas originated. Twain, Shakespeare, Milton, Tolkein, Bowie, Bach, Beethoven, Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, JayZ, Michelangelo, Manet, Picasso are among those cited. (Their 15 page pdf, a very engaging read, can be downloaded here: Nothing-New-Under-the-Sun.)

"... authors do not create in a vacuum" the document asserts. "The raw material for their creativity is existing works. Artists borrow themes, styles, structures, tropes, and phrases from works that inspire them. And if copyright overprotects existing works—if it restricts authors’ ability to build on the creative output of authors who came before them—it will be more difficult for authors to create."

Overprotection by copyright inhibits creative growth; it weakens our society.

In 1988 the U.S. House of Representatives published the following:
"Under the U.S. constitution, the primary objective of copyright law is not to reward the author, but rather to secure for the public the benefits derived from the author's labors. By giving authors an incentive to create, the public benefits in two ways: when the original expression is created and ... when the limited term ... expires and the creation is added to the public domain."

Internationally, the original intent of copyright law was to enrich the public - and so limits were placed on the period in which a creation was protected.

"St. James Infirmary" was removed from the public domain in 1929.Were it not for the fact that it so obviously is not an original composition, it would still be under copyright until 2024. If Irving Mills had been able to copyright the song under today's laws, the date it returns to the public domain would be 2055 - seventy years after his death, 127 years after its initial copyright. This is much too long.



(Mickey Mouse was copyrighted one year before "St. James Infirmary." You can read about that here: How-Mickey-Mouse-Evades-the-Public-Domain.)







Saturday, March 14, 2009

WFHB Community Radio - yet again!

I can't believe I'm entering three posts in a row about WFHB, in Bloomington, Indiana. This must be quite the happening community radio station.

I have just heard that folklorist Margaret Lynn Steiner will be broadcasting on Tuesday, March 17th - St. Patrick's Day - from 9 to 11 pm (Eastern time). She says that her program will be split between songs from Northern Ireland (where I was born) and songs from Miramichi, New Brunswick (near where my brother lives). Of the former Margaret says, "Newtownbutler, in Co. Fernmanagh, Northern Ireland, had a very active living song tradition, certainly in the late 1970's. Local songs abounded, centering around hunting, Gaelic football,  and cockfighting, as well as songs celebrating the local topography, etc. All I had to do was walk into McQuillan's Pub, and I could just happen on a 'singsong.'"

Regarding Miramichi, Ms. Steiner has been attending their folksong festival since 1986. This is the oldest folk music festival in Canada. Dating from 1958 it has the primary function of preserving traditional songs and culture. One of the treasures of Miramichi has been Wilmot MacDonald, a singer with an impressive store of old songs  - and who is featured on a 1962 Smithsonian recording. Margaret Steiner contributed to a CD and book about MacDonald, that is available from the Maine Folklife Center, University of Maine.

Margaret Lynn Steiner: "Edward D. (Sandy Ives) has done a lot of work on the English-language tradition, especially focusing on 19th-century folk poets such as Larry Gorman and Joe Scott. Ronald Labelle, of the University of Moncton, has worked a lot with the Francophone tradition, and I've been working with singers who are bilingual and bicultural and looking at how they juggle their biculturalism musically."

Folklorists are important people. Song collecting is important work. In this - as Lucas Gonze puts it - age of copyright extremism, we need to broaden our base of inspiration. We need to be reminded that songs can be living things with a vitality and meaningfulness that, in terms of cultural and personal value, far outstrips the monetary lifespan of Mickey Mouse.

So, that's WFHB on Tuesday, March 17th, from 9 to 11 in the evening, Eastern time. I shall be scheduling an audio capture, so I can load it onto my iPod.