Woody Guthrie originally wrote "This Land Is Your Land" as a kind of screed against the exploitations of private property ownership. When he submitted the song for copyright, Guthrie allegedly wrote that it was, "Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do." Although the copyright should have expired in 1973, the actual ownership of the rights has long been contested.
More recently, the lawyers who successfully returned "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" into the the Public Domain tried to take a similar approach to win back "This Land Is Your Land" for the people. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well. From The New York Times:
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In the case, a young musical group called Satorii sued the song’s publishers, Ludlow Music and the Richmond Organization, after paying $45.50 for a license to release a cover version of “This Land Is Your Land,” which Guthrie wrote in 1940. In their complaint — filed by the same lawyers behind the “Happy Birthday” and “We Shall Overcome” suits — the group used a detailed timeline of decades-old paperwork and Guthrie’s own hand-decorated songbooks to argue that Guthrie had essentially forfeited his copyright to the song decades ago by failing to renew it properly.
Motherboard has an interesting new piece about musical copyright law, and the fact that there are only so many musical sequences using half-step frequencies possible. What happens when they're all used up, and the copyright trolls take everyone to court for any song that even remotely resembles another one, just by virtue of the fact that it relies on the same music theory?
Think about Lana Del Rey accidentally ripping off of Radiohead, who had accidentally ripped off of the Hollies. It's not crazy to write a song that goes from the I to the extra tension of a Chromatic Mediant III before resolving on a IV, which then walks down to a minor iv and returns to the tonic.
(Or, in simpler terms, as Motherboard puts it: Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" ripping off of Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down")
To get around the potential future copyright trolls, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin developed a MIDI algorithm to automatically generate a series of melodies, then released those datasets into the public domain using a Creative Commons Zero license. The method for achieving this is pretty neat:
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To determine the finite nature of melodies, Riehl and Rubin developed an algorithm that recorded every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody combo. This used the same basic tactic some hackers use to guess passwords: Churning through every possible combination of notes until none remained. Riehl says this algorithm works at a rate of 300,000 melodies per second.
Once a work is committed to a tangible format, it's considered copyrighted.
The EU's Copyright Directive will be voted on in the week of March 25 (our sources suggest the vote will take place on March 27th, but that could change); the Directive has been controversial all along, but it took a turn for the catastrophic during the late stages of the negotiation, which yielded a final text that is alarming in its potential consequences for all internet activity in Europe and around the world. Read the rest
Last week's publication of the final draft of the new EU Copyright Directive baffled and infuriated almost everyone, including the massive entertainment companies that lobbied for it in the first place; the artists' groups who endorsed it only to have their interests stripped out of the final document; and the millions and millions of Europeans who had publicly called on lawmakers to fix grave deficiencies in the earlier drafts, only to find these deficiencies made even worse.
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In an open letter to the EU and European national officials who are negotiating the final form of the new Copyright Directive (by all accounts, a hot mess), some of the largest rightsholder groups and corporations in Europe -- sports leagues and movie studios -- have condemned the direction negotiations have gone in and asked to have their content removed from the scope of the Directive.
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