logo

Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


back

Shameful Moments In American History's Copyright Censorship

For those who think that the "parody" defense has always provided a clear and fair outlet of escape from copyright's harsh restrictions, you might want to read up on the time in the 1950's when Jack Benny was banned from airing a parody of the 1942 film (and 1939 play) "Gaslight" for a television show he was doing.

Original news coverage after the 1958 Supreme Court decision can be found here:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=tX8PAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-YcDAAAAIBAJ&dq=jack%20benny%20supreme%20court&pg=5150%2C2765550 [The Victoria Advocate]

and here:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,937550,00.html [Time Magazine]

Classic lines from Time's coverage:

From now on, Benny intends to get permission of anybody he parodies. Gloomed he: "I suppose now they won't even let me do Birth of a Nation. They're afraid we'd hurt the picture."

While I regretfully cannot find an on-line link to a copy of the article, AP television writer Charles Mercer wrote in his syndicated column that week (March 22, 1958):

"Actually, television felt the effects of the suit long before the Supreme Court ruling. If memory serves, we have not seen an all-out parody of any copyrighted work on television since the suit was filed. Television, as everyone knows, is a mighty cautious industry.

Issuing a personal opinion on the ruling, I'm sorry as a television viewer that Benny has lost the case. It's one more nail in the coffin that fate prepares for TV comedians. It further limits the area in which they are permitted to try to make us laugh.

Parody is one of the most ancient and honorable forms of public entertainment. Suddenly to find it illegal is astonishing - and a little frightening in the area of freedom of expression."

Well said. Here is one of the nation's most prominent television critics at the time effectively admitting that a single copyright suit prevented countless of creative comedic works from being produced at the time - a shameful fact that is surely ignored in most law school and history classes today.

The 9th Circuit decision dealing with the jack Benny case can be read here:

http://openjurist.org/239/f2d/532/benny-v-loews-incorporated-columbia-broadcasting-system

The subsequent and brief (4-4) Supreme Court decision simply read without explanation:

PER CURIAM.

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

You can find a copy of it here: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=356&invol=43

A subsequent parody case which cast criticism on the decision makes for interesting reading here: http://cip.law.ucla.edu/cases/case_berlin_ec.html

The bottom line is that the so-called "parody" protection from copyright has always been an opaque crock. It is no clearer now than it has been in the past, but creative works are still being stifled from fear of treading on copyright's parameters:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15758460119711775481&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/yuminemma/files/2009/12/cat-not-in-hat1.jpg

http://grove.ufl.edu/~techlaw/vol9/issue1/collado.html

ADDENDUM: I recently came across yet another Jack Benny-related copyright outrage here:

http://boingboing.net/2010/01/18/cbs-uncovers-rare-ja.html

Oh, the irony. Even in death, the copyright regime still torments him.


Comments


Submit Comment


   

Most Recent Comments

Dr. Who?

The Other Dr. No: HIV Researcher Fighting the IP Pirates Hi, First off, I came across your site and wanted to say thanks for providing a great HIV/AIDS

IIPA thinks open source equals piracy Buy college papers at http://buy-essays-now.com and make sure that they are the best

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Replying to Stephan: As I noted elsewhere, I'm fine with abolishing the system, just don't think

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Finally got around to looking at the comments, sorry for delay... Replying to Stephan: I'm sorry

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... This is very useful post for the people. I want to write this types article but I do not know about

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Seems like a kinda bizarre proposal to me. We just need to abolish the patent system, not replace

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges I'm a bit confused by this--even if "hired to invent" went away, that would just change the default

What's copywritable? Go fish in court. This post is providing very useful and informative information for the students. I like this post

Update and critique of the proposed GOOGLE settlement Hi!) Informative article about Google INC. I agree with you, that Google is a huge company, that

IIPA thinks open source equals piracy Do you suffer from loads of academic assignments? http://marvelous-essay.net will help you to

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Thanks for the information! It's good to know that there are some places showing the consequences

Do we need a law? @ Alexander Baker: So basically, if I copy parts of 'Titus Andronicus' to a webpage without

Do we need a law? The issue is whether the crime is punished not who punishes it. If somebody robs our house we do

Do we need a law? 1. Plagiarism most certainly is illegal, it is called "copyright infringement". One very famous

IIPA thinks open source equals piracy Good post. Thanks for this information. By the way, if students want to get rid of their

Yet another proof of the inutility of copyright. The 9/11 Commission report cost $15,000,000 to produce, not counting the salaries of the authors.

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece P.S. The link to Amazon's WKRP product page:

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece Hopefully some very good news. Shout! Factory is releasing the entire series of WKRP in Cincinnati,

What's copywritable? Go fish in court. @ Anonymous: You misunderstood my intent. I was actually trying to point out a huge but basic