The “Black-ish” Perception

Three days ago, I watched the TV sitcom, Black-ish, a show I’ve liked from its inception.  It was, to date, the program’s most serious episode, illustrating the varied reactions within the show’s primary family to news reports regarding a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officers on charges of brutality involving an African American teenager.

 It isn’t often that a TV show still has me thinking about it three days later.  I’ve forgotten most shows three minutes after the final commercial break.  But this episode was different, and I must give credit to those involved in its creation for trying to shed some light on what is an ongoing tragedy in America.

 The tragedy is actually twofold.

 First, there is the tragedy of racially motivated brutality.  I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of people, including law enforcement officers, deplore and would never commit any such act.  However, it takes only a few individuals of differing viewpoint to have such an atrocity occur, and, based on the sheer volume of occasions on which it could happen, it happens all too often.

 The second part of the tragedy, as the episode of Black-ish portrayed, is that there is a large segment of our community that, based on its experience, does not have confidence in our judicial system or the people entrusted to uphold it.  I can imagine no more fearful state of affairs than to be in a position where one cannot expect the rights and protections supposedly guaranteed to every American.  And to know there are those who harbor uncertainty and even fear of the very people tasked with guarding those rights is, for me, a condition of sadness the magnitude of which I do not believe I could properly describe in words.

 I do not expect a half-hour sitcom to raise and thoroughly debate every conceivable issue on any given topic.  So I do not hold Black-ish to such a standard.  There are elements of controversy that were not touched.  For example, I do not recall the show’s characters making commentary on those occasions when public protest over alleged brutality turns to violence, destruction of property, and/or looting.  Violence is an act of brutality, itself; destruction of property (public or private) is malicious vandalism that further damages the community; and looting is just opportunistic thievery.

 I strongly support every American’s First Amendment right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  However, “peaceably” assembled people do not commit the above referenced acts, and to suggest those things are justified by the circumstances is to subscribe to the school of thought that teaches two wrongs somehow make a right.  That sort of convoluted logic does not coincide with the teachings of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as I understand them.

 The “case” as portrayed in the TV show was fictitious and sparse on details.  So I do not believe it can be conclusively analyzed from a legal perspective, and I will not try.  However, for me, the greater issue—the one perhaps we all should be analyzing—is what, if anything, can be done to lessen this racial rift over the perceptions and realities regarding our judicial system.  If a TV show gets us thinking about it, so much the better for us all.

Authors Guild Seeks Supreme Justice

The Authors Guild has taken its decade-long fight with Google to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Guild has filed a request for the High Court to review the battle over whether Google has the legal right to provide scanned excerpts of books online.

Google has maintained that the excerpts are simply a research tool for Internet users and that they fall under the Fair Use Doctrine of American copyright law.  The Authors Guild sees it as a form of republication without payment to the authors.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Google's favor.  The rationale for that decision was that the Court didn't consider the excerpted matterial a meaningful alternative to having the full book.  Therefore, in the Court's view, the excerpts didn't infringe the authors' copyrights on the works as a whole.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Guild isn't trying to shut down Google's practice of scanning books but, rather, have Google pay for the right to do so.

Blond Jesus Has Plaintiff Seeing Red

A man is suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the City of New York over artistic depictions of Jesus that represent Christianity's most revered personage as a fair skinned blond.

According to the lawsuit filed in a New York court by plaintiff Justin Renel Joseph, such depictions on display in the museum are "anti-Semitic, racist and offensive."  The complaint maintains that Jesus, a man of Hebrew descent living in the Middle East at that time, "would not be genetically disposed to possess such features."

Citing the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mr. Joseph is asking the court to order that the artworks be removed from public display.

Did Anne Frank Have a Co-Author?

Nothing stirs up controversy like the prospect of a lucrative copyright coming to an end.  In this case, I'm talking about the book, The Diary of Anne Frank.

The classic work is a Jewish teenage girl's recounting of the days when she and her family tried to evade from the Nazis by hiding in a secret annex of an Amsterdam factory.  The family was eventually captured, and only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived.  He brought the diary to light for the world by having it published.

The copyright in Europe was set to expire as of January 1, 2016.  However, according to a New York Times story, the Swiss foundation that currently holds the copyright is contending that Otto Frank was actually a co-author of the book, which would push the copyright expiration date in Europe to 70 years after his death in 1980.

This raises at least two issues:  First, if Otto Frank was a co-author, then does that call into question previous assertions that the diary was in Anne's own words?  Does that constitute a form of fraud on the buying public?  (Just asking.)  And, second, what does this new claim on the duration of the book's copyright do to those who've been planning various republications next year of what they had thought was about to become a public domain work?

If history is any indication, claims of copyright protection that go beyond what was originally thought to be the expiration date typically wind up in court.  I wouldn't be the least surprised to see this one there.

A Snippet of Legality

If you've been following the legal battle involving the Authors Guild and various other literary plaintiffs versus Google, the victory -- at least so far -- goes to the search engine giant.

The case involved Google's practice of scanning a huge number of copyright protected books that populate public libraries for the purpose of providing a digital copy to both the library and the Google online archives.  The Google archives are then searchable by keyword, and "snippets" (a.k.a. excerpts) of the book are made available to read online.  Authors claimed it constituted copyright infringement.  Google claimed fair use.

In its recent ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, although the digital copies constituted derivative works of the originals (and the creation of derivatives is the sole right of the copyright holder), the digitalized snippets are a transformative use in that they provide information about the book without providing the whole book.