Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Copyright piranhas and lawyers get up my nose

I once got a very angry letter from some PhD because I'd taken from her website a couple of paragraphs of 18th century text originally published in the records of Newgate Prison, England. The reason for the outrage? Because this academic had scanned the text and therefore claimed copyright over words written by some clerk hundreds of years before she was born. This week I got a rather terse, sarcastic email from some 'artist' whose copy (probably just a brass rubbing) of a line drawing of an ancient British saint, also appeared on Wilson's Almanac (gasp!) without attribution. So, my copy of what some other shmendrick makes a copy of is apparently a violation of some sacred 'ownership'. Pity the poor stonemason of centuries ago who gets not a penny from such wicked rip-off merchants as Wilson.

I protect the copyright of Wilson's Almanac, and everything I write. Of course I do. But I hope I'm not walking around with a carrot up my quoit like some precious 'artists' and 'academics'. And I don't expect to die of heart attack of the ego because of terminal uptightness. (BTW,my copyright notice is at, and I've never knocked back a request for free use of anything. In my whole life I've made about $100 from copyright, and I couldn't give a rat's. As long as no one rips me off in order to line their pockets, of course. In which case, this platypus has a poison spur.)

Copyright, anyway, is 90% the invention of the greedy, and it's becoming as old fashioned as Newgate Prison quills. I admire certain historical figures I know about who refused even to patent their inventions, for the good of mankind. Aussie inventor, Lawrence Hargrave, a father of aviation, was, I believe, such a one. His work helped the Wright Bros take to the air. He didn't want a penny from the world of aviation. Good on him!

There was a pre-school in Australia forced by the Disney Corp to remove a mural of Mickey Mouse. And when I was editor of 'Simply Living' magazine, we got a lawyer's letter from 'Vogue Living' to change our masthead, or else. Did you know that if you have a magazine cover with a red border or a yellow border, you might well be prosecuted by, respectively, 'TIME' magazine or 'National Geographic'? Did you know that since Australia's right-wing government signed a Free Trade Agreement with the USA a couple of years ago, copyright went from 50 years after an author's death to 70 years after the author's death? All to keep greenbacks in the hands of those who eat them the most. They eat them with relish, and I don't mean chutney.

Songs, royalties, copyright

Did you know that Men at Work is being sued for allegedly having a few notes of 'Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree' in their international hit song, 'Down Under'? And that George Harrison was sued for having some notes in 'My Sweet Lord' allegedly sounding similar to some of those in a 1963 hit song, 'He's So Fine'? Did you know that 'Happy Birthday to You' is under copyright to Warner Music Corp until 2030 and public performance is technically illegal until then?

Did you know that the Australian Government had to pay royalties to Carl Fischer Music following Australia's national song, 'Waltzing Matilda', being played at the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, USA?

Things are changing, and change they must. Even Bob Dylan said he thinks it's great that people pirate his songs from the Net. But Bobby usually has been one step ahead of the pack. I'm with you, Zimmy!

Free the Internet. Free thought. Blah blah blah etc etc etc.



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