Thursday, August 22, 2013

Disclaimer of the Month

Disclaimer of the Month:

"This artwork does not constitute  any affiliation with, sponsorship or endorsement by any celebrity that the artwork may resemble."

From the creepy Dead Ringer Look-Alike Contest sponsored  the otherwise excellent Moe's Southwest Grill.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Battling Beatles Tribute Bands- can you copyright a wig?

I could probably spend all of my free time reading about lawsuits involving the Beatles.  Here’s the latest.  The producers of the Broadway Beatles’ tribute show Rain have just sued the producers of another Broadway tribute show, Let It Be alleging copyright infringement among other cause of action.  The complaint apparently claims that the second production contains similar musical arrangements, between song patter, background artwork and (wait for it) wigs.

The lawyer in me has to ask – how can the producers of Rain claim a copyright in any of this?  It is four guys, dressed as the Beatles, acting like the Beatles, playing Beatles’ songs.

Digging into the case. I see it goes deeper than that: the producers of both shows were working together in some sort of joint venture that went bad so the suit may be more about the contractual relationship than anything else but the copyright claims are certainly odd.

From a casual observer, it seems that the world of tribute bands in general can be fairly litigious.   I came across an interesting law review article on the subject a while back:
 It almost seems like a strange kind of sub culture, but having seen more than a handful of these groups one has to appreciate the skill and work involved in learning how to replicate the Fab 4, or any other band for that matter. Still, I don’t think there is much original expression (for copyright purposes) going on here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bob Dylan, Cliff Richard and UK Copyright Law

I have been reading some interesting articles lately about the changes in English and European copyright law and how different copyright owners have dealt with them.  Until recently, British law provided that sound recordings entered the public domain 50 years after their initial release.  I sort of noticed that the last time that I was in the HMV Store in London and saw a number of dodgy-looking CDs featuring early jazz artists and rock and roll from the 1950s.

            It appears that artists and record companies led an appeal to change the law.  Their symbolic leader was Sir Cliff Richard, who became a figurehead for the new law much like Walt Disney did for copyright extension in the United States.  As Evan Marshall writes in Record Collector "and so it came to pass that Cliff's law is about to take effect and this year should see a change to the legislation governing copyrights which extends the protection to recordings from 50 years to 70 years."

            To dig a little deeper, artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones essentially escaped by the skin of their teeth.  For example while the much bootlegged Beatles recordings from the Star Club, the Decca auditions from 1962, the Beat Brothers recordings and even the single "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" are technically in the public domain in the United Kingdom, the remainder of their catalog is safe for another 20 years.

            The most interesting development from this UK copyright law change came from the Bob Dylan camp.  Recognizing that the new law would protect only recordings that were released within the last 50 years – and was not retroactive, Bob Dylan's label Sony released what looks to be its own bootleg, called The 50th Anniversary Collection (in France and Germany it's called the Copyright Extension Collection Volume 1).  The collection is apparently comprised of four CD-R's with a paper insert listing the tracks.  I haven't seen a complete track listing but the set appears to include 24  outtakes from the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan plus some well-known live recordings like the Finjan Club and the so‑called Minneapolis Hotel Tape.  Dylan fans know that there is a treasure trove of this stuff floating around out there.

            This collection was allegedly limited to 100 sets per country so the purpose was not to make money.  Also the very process of releasing the material (some of which was truly unreleased and unavailable before) makes it available to the legendary enormous Bob Dylan bootleg audience.  Thus Sony must have felt that the security of copyright protection for these songs was worth letting them get into the hands of Dylan enthusiasts.  As such, this is a fascinating example of a copyright owner taking a calculated risk to be able to secure the benefits of copyright law.  I'm sure there will be more developments in this area.