That Copyright Thing

August 29th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

We’ve been interested in the JibJab versus Ludlow Music (or is it the other way around) case for a couple of reasons. From the first article we read, we were quite convinced this was a simple case of fair use. Then we started wondering what Woody Guthrie would think of the whole thing. Then we really started wondering…why does this music publishing company own the copyright to Guthrie’s work. See how thoughts just keep building until there’s no room for anything new?

We’ve frothed at the mouth about copyrights before, but found this intriguing because we kept coming back to the final point: how does an artist lose his copyright? Obviously, there’s an assignment or selling of rights involved. We poked around (because we are giving and fascinated — a dangerous composition considering we have major grocery shopping to accomplish) and learned that copyrights for certain aspects of a musical composition (the lyrics and arrangement) are generally owned by the publisher (like Ludlow). Contrast this with book publishing where the copyright remains the property of the author and is licensed to the publisher.

In the JibJab case, an unusual twist happened. In researching “This Land Is Your Land”, the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered that Guthrie held the copyright to the song, and hadn’t bothered to renew it. Our guess, if we may be so bold, is that he assumed all was controlled by Ludlow and never thought twice about the copyright he personally acquired — if he was aware of it at all. Which would normally set us off on a rant about knowing your business, but since Guthrie is dead, we suspect he wouldn’t listen…

Interesting case, and we love it when a surprise twist changes the ending.

File Under: Tools and Craft

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