Yesterday, a federal judge summarily ruled that the infamous song, “Happy Birthday To You” is not copyrighted. Time-Warner bought the company that bought the company that bought the company that bought some rights to the song in the ’30s. The paperwork was vague, so the lawyers interpreted it to make lots of money for the alleged copyright holder.
The royalties currently add up to about $2 million a year. The plaintiffs in the copyright case are starting a class action suit to recover some of the royalties that Time Warner and its predecessors collected improperly.
The point of copyright and patents is to encourage people to create things. The copyright gives a legal monopoly over the work for some number of years. Modern patents last about 20 years. Copyrights used to last 28 years. Now they last 70 years past the death of the author. Clearly this has nothing to do with paying authors. It has everything to do with selling a DVD containing black-and-white Disney cartoons.
Continue reading “Happy Birthday” Freed! Next should be Mickey Mouse
Thank you to Rick for inviting me to post this on the Smatters blog! I’m very happy to be guest blogging. The purpose of this series is to give my American friends a better understanding of the political system in Canada.
Part the First: Head of State
Canada is a part of the British commonwealth; what this means (amongst other things) is that officially, the head of state is the reigning British monarch; ie, currently, the Queen. Her representative in Canada is the Governor General. This position was much more meaningful in the days when the monarchy was more deeply involved in administrative affairs, and communication technology involved slow, fallible wooden ships. Now the position seems a lot more ceremonial; however, the Governor General still does have to sign off on various official acts in Canada – calling an election, forming a new government, and proroguing parliament.
“Proroguing,” as I understand it, is when the prime minister decides to close shop on the sitting parliament for a while. There may be legitimate uses for it, but it can also be kind of a bullshit move. The current prime minister (Stephen Harper, Conservative Party) prorogued parliament in late 2009, ostensibly because he wanted Canada to focus on the winter Olympics in Vancouver, but immediately before the prorogue there was a lot of grumbling in parliament and the press about some shady dealings he’d supposedly been involved in; speculation (on the left, anyway) at the time was that he just didn’t want to answer questions and he hoped it would blow over. Anyway, the Governor General rubber stamped the prorogue, parliament went home for a few months, the Olympics were awesome, and the furor over the issues did quiet down.
So clearly, the Governor General’s position (and by extension, the Queen’s role) is still important in Canadian politics. If the Governor General hadn’t signed off on it, parliament could not have been prorogued, the prime minister would probably have been asked to answer some uncomfortable questions, and possibly there would have been a call for a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Next installment: Parliament! (No, not George Clinton’s Funkadelic.)
Janet emailed me a link to the W2O campaign, which wants to discard Andrew Jackson from the $20 and replace him with a noteworthy woman. The campaign has its own list of candidates, mostly human rights icons and politicians. I’d call Rachel Carson the only nonpolitical candidate, since she’s a scientist. But since climate denial has become a popular political cause, Carson’s choice would also be considered political.
[Not sure why I’m ignoring Clara Barton – maybe I’d be more excited if she’d been a physician like Gramma Doc].
Cousin Peter suggested Grace Hopper, and I love the idea. If you’re using the Internet and you don’t know who Grace Hopper is, you should go watch the 17-minute video “The Queen of Code.” In a nutshell, Hopper was a giant of the computer field in the early days. She first worked on the Harvard Mark 1 as a naval officer during World War II, and then on the first Univac computer. She’s most famous for work on programming languages. Her work on COBOL brought “automatic programming in an English-like language” to businesses, making it practical for more of them to use computers.
Continue reading Put Grace Hopper on the $20 Bill
I’ve downloaded the Senate’s report on the use of torture by the CIA. I’m reading through the summary. It’s about as bad as it could have been – misleading reports of effectiveness, poor oversight at all levels, and a level of abuse worse than many expected.
The terrorism guy from Clinton’s administration, Richard Clarke, as well as people from the FBI (and some I spoke to at security conferences) claimed that standard (non abusive) interrogation techniques were going to prove more effective than the torture. This report confirms.
I’ve been reading Of Virgins and Martyrs which more-or-less explores the role of women in world culture. David Jacobson, the author, frames the discussion around religious traditions, which themselves generally arose in patriarchal societies. Religious conservatives world-wide often oppose expansions of womens’ rights. I think this often arises because many religious conservatives like to conflate social traditions with religious obligations. Neither Jesus nor Mohammed explicitly relegated women to a second class status (never mind what St. Paul had to say).
However, both savior and prophet arose in a patriarchal society. It’s easy to portray both as patriarchal or even misogynistic by over-interpreting their social interactions.
Continue reading Social Traditions versus Religious Traditions
I just read an interesting book review (posted on Salon, but originally from the LA Review of Books) about the role of debt in civilization and history. The book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, was written by David Graeber, who apparently played a big role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m not a huge fan of anti-capitalist polemics, and some Amazon reviews accuse this book of being such. However, the review intrigues me by arguing that historians have traditionally overlooked the role of debt in culture.
Intuitively, I agree. I see how debt leads to enslavement in various forms. The problem is that debt, like all economic mechanisms, is vulnerable to abuse. Perhaps that’s why the Bible forbade the collection of interest – it’s too hard to manage a primitive economy fairly when you have such a mechanism. On the other hand, the author Hernando de Soto (The Mystery of Capital) argues that South American economies would become incredibly prosperous if the residents of favelas in São Paulo and other giant cities – as well as farmers in the countrysides – had legitimate titles to their living spaces and could mortgage them.
Continue reading Debt and Culture
My goodness, the media has discovered that Thomas Jefferson, hero of every U. Va. alum, actually owned slaves. Not only that, but he exploited them for their labor! He arranged his life to make things nice for him even if it made things hard for them.
A slaveowner is a private dictator and, as we know, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Slaveholding even tainted Jefferson’s architectural efforts.
Continue reading Jefferson the Slaveholder