: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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To Catch a (Joke) Thief: Professors Study Intellectual Property Norms in Stand-up Comedy

Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliar saw the video of Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia arguing on stage over Mencia’s purported theft of other comedian’s material. I laughed and went on to the next video of a cat chasing yarn. Sprigman and Oliar wrote an insightful law review article on how comedians use and enforce intellectual property rights in jokes. Life Lesson: watch more Youtube.

Warning: NSFLS (language)

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Copyright and the Canonization of a Christmas Classic

Ronald Rychlak recounts the role of copyright (or in this case the lack thereof) in making It’s a Wonderful Life the ubiquitous holiday movie it is today.

The movie had not yet become a Christmas classic when, in 1974, its copyright protection was allowed to expire. That meant that television stations could air it over and over without paying full royalties. (There were still some smaller, derivative royalties due on the storyline, but it is not clear that they were always paid.) For a period of time from the mid-1970s into the 1990s, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed to be on several stations, several times each week during the Christmas season. In fact, one episode of the old television series Cheers even dealt with the movie’s frequent airings.

These repeated showings, made possible by the termination of copyright protection, turned It’s a Wonderful Life into the Christmas tradition that it is today. That, in turn, sent people searching for ways to capitalize on the film.

Videotapes of It’s a Wonderful Life were produced by several different manufacturers. Since they did not have to pay full royalties or even get permission to use the images, any VHS producer could bring the popular movie to market, and numerous ones did.

There are similar public-domain-to-riches stories, notably New Line Cinema‘s success in bankrolling the 1936 Reefer Madness in to bigger and better things. Co-founders Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne, who met while attending Columbia Law School, discuss the role of the film in an interview with Charlie Rose in 2007 (relevant part of the conversation starts at around 13:29).

Copyright in Hitler’s Globe

hitlers-globeAssociated Press

In 2007, Robert Pritikin bought Hitler’s globe and had it copyrighted to “to keep it from being used in propaganda by sick neo-Nazi groups.” After noticing a replica of the globe in the new Tom Cruise flick Valkyrie, about a real-life plot to assassinate Hitler, Pritikin has threatened legal action…. for copyright infringement.

So I guess Hitler was quite the innovator when it comes to globes…. it looks nothing like these I suppose…

via Sazzy B

So in my rather elementary understanding of copyright, the creator of an original work has exclusive rights for a certain statutorily determined time period. Hmmm…..

Am I missing something? Did Hitler make the damn globe?

“Pritikin believes the globe should be used as a teaching tool so the lessons of Hitler’s nightmare can keep history from repeating itself,” said investigator Paul Barresi, who was retained along with Dan Hanks to look into the copying of the globe. Hanks tells Page Six: “Tom Cruise’s use of the globe’s likeness without our client’s permission was likely just an oversight. We’re confident this will all be quickly resolved out of court.”

Pritikin recently put the Hitler items up for sale through businessman Peter Marino and hopes Cruise may buy them. “I think it would be a wonderful gesture of good will on Tom Cruise’s part to purchase the globe along with all of the other Hitler artifacts owned by Mr. Pritikin and donate them to the Wiesenthal Center,” Barresi said. Added Hanks: “It would be a hell of a way for Tom Cruise to save the day for United Artists and be a real-life hero.”

A hero to Mr. Pritikin I’m sure.

Facebook Founder Sued

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of online networking juggernaut Facebook (Add me! Add me!), is facing a lawsuit from three of his former college mates who claim Zuckerman stole the source code from a similar project and used it to start Facebook. They are seeking to have Facebook turned over to them.

WSJ: Judge Expresses Skepticism About Facebook Lawsuit, and the law blog’s take.

It doesn’t sound like it’s going extraordinarily well for the plaintiffs. From the law blog –

In a pretrial hearing yesterday, Judge Woodlock said that “dorm room chitchat does not make a contract.” He criticized the plaintiffs, whose site is called ConnectU, for scheduling a press conference after the hearing and speculated that they were seeking news coverage “for the purposes of a settlement.” Facebook is the world’s second most-popular social-networking site; ConnectU isn’t.

Oh, snap.

Mixtapes & the Law

From the NY Times: With Arrest of DJ Drama, the Law Takes Aim at Mixtapes

On Tuesday night [DJ Drama] was arrested with Don Cannon, a protégé. The police, working with the Recording Industry Association of America, raided his office, at 147 Walker Street in Atlanta. The association makes no distinction between counterfeit CDs and unlicensed compilations like those that DJ Drama is known for. So the police confiscated 81,000 discs, four vehicles, recording gear, and “other assets that are proceeds of a pattern of illegal activity,” said Chief Jeffrey C. Baker, from the Morrow, Ga., police department, which participated in the raid.

DJ Drama (whose real name is Tyree Simmons) and Mr. Cannon were each charged with a felony violation of Georgia’s Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization law(known as RICO) and held on $100,000 bond.

I’m not all that in to the hip-hop scene myself, but I wonder if people of a certain generation realize how ludicrous this appears to our own? What these DJs do is not piracy, viewed from any sane policy angle, and as the RIAA will discover eventually, culture trumps law.

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