Hey, score one for copyRIGHTS!

If you haven’t heard of the hilarious JibJab parody of “This Land is Your Land,” starring George W. Bush and John Kerry, click on that link, then come back here when you’re done laughing. I’ll see you in an hour or two.

Well, the supposed owners of the copyright on the original song weren’t amused, so they threatened a lawsuit. But the good guys struck back. Not only is parody permissible (are they gonna sue Weird Al Yankovic next?), but the good guys made a convincing case that “This Land is Your Land” is public domain!This was a case of a publisher trying to stack the deck in its favor to eke out a few extra years of copyright, trying to save 20 bucks, or both. The song was first published in 1945, but the publisher prefers to stick with a 1956 copyright, renewed in 1984.

JibJab’s goal was to protect its own skin, so the publisher is sticking by its 1956 copyright. Someone else will probably have to fight that battle.

Sadly, the way copyright law is now, it’s almost impossible for something to fall into the public domain except by accident, as in this case. But at least we have a demonstrable case of it happening once.

2 thoughts on “Hey, score one for copyRIGHTS!

  • August 26, 2004 at 12:42 pm
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    I just bought a brand-new text book. The title page says, "Copyright 2005." I suppose they are just lying to make the book appear newer. Can I exploit this somehow?


    Yeah, but it’s a moist heat.

    • August 26, 2004 at 5:57 pm
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      Of course they are. My book was copyrighted 2000, even though it first appeared in December 1999. Late late late December 1999 (like the week of Christmas–grr) but 1999 nonetheless. The copyright was formally registered with the Library of Congress on 20 Jan 2000 but the first copy was sold about a month earlier.

      You’re not likely to live long enough to be able to call it into question though. So is it really up for renewal in 2099 or 2100? A case could be made for 2099 but by then I doubt anyone else will care.

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