Everything Old is New Again


If an author has among his writings a musical composition, the only possible way of “securing” to him the “exclusive right” thereto is by giving him the monopoly of this musical composition, no matter in what form it may be represented; otherwise, he gets only a partial exclusive right thereto. No composer can be truly said to have “the exclusive right” to his musical composition writings secured to him so long as others have the right to publish, and sell them without his consent . . .

Leave off of that quote right there and it could be about digital file-sharing and made last week. However, the last six words are in fact "in the form of perforated music" and the statement was made in 1908 in a landmark Supreme Court case determining that player piano rolls did not fall withing the definition of a "copyrighted work" that was on the books at the time. In 1908, in the case White-Smith Music Publishing Company v. Apollo Company, the Supreme Court determined that technology had overtaken the existing law of copyright and the law as written did not cover the new technology.

Dispatches From Occupied Tucson: Week 1

So I'd been meaning to write something about Occupy Tucson for a little while now, and the hope was that I could blog some about it on a day by day basis. Turns out that hasn't really been possible. Between school and some clinical stuff I'm doing and the Occupation, I haven't had a lot of time to reflect on what it all means. Now that it's Friday and I have some free time before the working group meeting I need to attend this evening, I feel the need to let the theorist in my brain run wild for a little bit and there are a few things that have struck me that I'd like to make a note of. Here they are in no particular order.

The Magician, The Priest, The Conjurer & The Lawyer: Law, Mysticism, Magic, and the Occult

I begin with my own personal definition of magic: magic is the explanation of last resort. I am, among other things, an amateur magician; or to put it another way, don't play cards with me for money. I use this concept of magic, tho, because it encompasses not only legerdemaine and conjuring as entertainment, but also magic as a subject of anthropological study: the practice of various believers in magic that exist and have always existed in human society. It also encompasses practices that, I think, the people who engage in them would hesitate to describe as magic. I'm thinking here of the sacraments of various christian churches, marriage rites, funeral rites and the like that are more generally thought of as religious rather than magical. My thinking about magic is intentionally wider than what I think most people would accept for various reasons, but most fundamentally it is to encompass in a single concept the resonant similarities I feel in my encounters within four cultural institutions that I see as making use of magic to accomplish their ends.

How Not To Write Corporate Communication: An Object Lesson In Obfuscation

So Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman has heard the Twitter-patter on his window of the rain of Facebook subscribers deleting their accounts in droves following an exercise in crappy journalism that it appears that The Consumerist has been backpedaling on for most of the day since I pointed out that they had overblown their reading of the new Facebook Terms of Service. Zuckerman, realizing once again what a fragile and delicate flower his social networking orchid is, has boldly marched forward into the fray and declared with all due gravitas and solemnity what the TOS actually means for a Facebook user.

Except, well, he didn't.

The Facebook Freakout

So people are freaking out about Facebook thanks to this story on The Consumerist.

I'm curious about it because the whole thing just, well, seems ridiculous. For one thing, I continue to find it baffling that people feel as though they can control works of intellectual property uploaded to sites that are indexable by search engines. One of the reasons I'm still a livejournal user is the fact that I can keep posts there locked and off of google.

Up front I should probably say something that Chris Walters, the blogger and chicken little at The Consumerist who apparently started this panic, didn't say in his article. I am not a lawyer and no expert on intellectual property rights. I did however study intellectual property rights and have about as much knowledge of the byzantine nonsense that is US copyright law as any layman can claim to have. I also, apparently, have a greater level of reading comprehension than Mr. Chicken Little Walters and the various other barnyard animals who have been parroting his "OMG DUDES FACEBOOK PWNS ALL YR STUFF NOW" conclusion in the above blog post.

Of particular importance is the part of the Facebook TOS that the sensationalist boobs at The Consumerist failed to read completely. Below you will find the entire relevant section of the TOS quoted in full, emphasis mine:

New RIAA Rules Will Shut Down Pandora

As being widely reported, higher fees for online music imposed by the RIAA may force to close down. is my favorite Internet radio site, and it can't be any better for other Internet Radio enterprises. This is really a classic case of the music industry shooting itself in the foot; by making their rates inordinately high they're not only going to miss out on the revenue they would get from major sites like Pandora having to close, but also from the literally millions of people getting turned on to new music and going out and buying CDs and digital downloads and so on. What a bunch of assholes.

The Dan Brown court case

From the Guardian:

A high court judge today rejected claims that Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code breached the copyright of an earlier book.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh had sued publishers Random House claiming that Mr Brown's book "appropriated the architecture" of their book, The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, which was published in 1982 by the same publishing house.

I'm not sure what "appropriated the architecture" means, but it sounds like it means "used our non-fiction book for research on his novel and made a lot more money than we did and now we're pissed about it". But then, the people who really win from the propagation of the idea that using someone's non-fiction research makes one liable for plagiarism is the lawyers on both sides. Which is to say, they're the people who really win from frivolous lawsuits.

Of course, The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail and The DaVinci Code are both based largely on an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Pierre Plantard. Maybe Plantard's heirs (he died in 2000) should sue all the authors involved for plagiarizing his original fraudulent documents.