"You Have the Right to Remain Copyrighted..."

I was watching the TV show, Monk, the other night, and there was a scene in which a police lieutenant got miffed with his captain because, as the lieutenant saw it, the captain gave credit to another person for the very same crime theory the lieutenant had offered earlier.  The lieutenant's petulant response to this was that he was going to copyright his police notes from now on -- a notion the police captain looked on with disdain.  "You're going to copyright your police notes?"

Well, silly though it might sound, under the U.S. copyright law, a police officer's notes might be automatically copyrighted as soon as they're written.  Most anything original that's written down is automatically protected by copyright.  You don't have to register a writing for it to be protected.

Of course, if you're making police notes as part of your job as a law enforcement officer, it could be argued that the copyright actually belongs to your employer -- the law enforcement agency for whom the notes were created -- rather than to the officer.

Let It Be...Published

Correspondence written by musical legend John Lennon during his lifetime is going to be published in a new book.  Actually, on a more technical level, it's a republishing of the letters.  You see, the way the law views it, simply composing and mailing a letter is a form of publication.  And, just in case you weren't sure about it, a letter that's composed under contemporary American copyright law is protected by copyright.  So, according to a New York Times article, Mr. Lennon's correspondence is being published in the book with the permission of his widow, Yoko Ono, whom we can assume controls his estate.

The Art of the Steal

I encountered an interesting essay that discusses the legal issues surrounding ownership of recovered art that was stolen.  You might think it's just too obvious that the art should automatically go back to whomever was the original owner.  But, as is so often the case in the law, it's not always that simple -- espcially when an insurance company has already paid the original owner for the loss.  Once that has happened, is the insurance company entitled to keep the painting it, in essence, paid for?

You can read the article at Spencer's Art Law Journal.

Does Gender Switching Equal Copyright Violation?

I was making a presentation to playwrights in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, and one of the people in the audience asked a question that I hadn't considered before.  If a production company changes the gender of characters in a play without asking permission of the author, does that constitute a violation of copyright law?

Basically, it can be argued that a theater company's changing of Mr. So-and-so to Miss So-and-so constitutes the creation of a derivative product of the source material, and it's the exclusive right of the copyright holder (typically the playwright) to make or authorize derivative works.  Even beyond copyright law, it's pretty standard that production licensing agreements include a clause that forbids the producing company from making any unauthorized changes to the script as written.  So it stands to reason that some (if not quite a few) playwrights would take issue with a theater company deciding to change the gender of a character, and it's possible that those playwrights could make a legal issue out of it.

For years, theaters have been lauded for "blind casting," in which roles are cast with absolute disregard for the race of the actor.  After all, who's to say that an actor can't play the part of someone of a different race.  It is, to belabor an obvious point, just the actor pretending to be someone other than who he is (which is the very definition of "acting").

But here we're talking about an actor of the opposite sex pretending not to be the gender chosen by the playwright for the character but, rather, a gender opposite of what the playwright has called for.  There the playwright might have a case to step in and say "no."

It's an intriguing issue, and I'd be interested to hear more about it if anyone has any real experience with such a situation.  Click the "Contact" button above and send me an email if you'd care to share your experience on this topic.

You Mean Sometimes People on Reality Shows Actually Care How They Appear?

Up till now, I'd have thought it almost impossible that anyone who voluntarily appears on one of the so-called "reality shows" has any concerns over how others will perceive them.  But, just when you think there's nothing too embarrassing for people to do if it'll get them their fifteen minutes of fame on TV, along comes a woman who's suing MTV for the emotional distress she says she's suffered as a result of her depiction on Real World: Washington, D.C.

According to a Washington Post article, 23-year-old Golzar Amiremotazedi sued for $5 million and claims that she was too intoxicated to sign the waiver document the producers gave her at the time the episode was made.  The Post reports that a federal judge is allowing the case to go forward in the courts, its fate to be determined by evidence of just how intoxicated Ms. Amiremotazedi was when she signed on the proverbial dotted line.  Intoxication can be a reason for invalidating a contract.