Courtroom Drama Film Revives 146-Year-Old Legal Questions

Over the course of 2002-2005, I researched and wrote a play, titled The Judicial Murder of Mrs. Surratt, in which I dramatized the trial of Mary Surratt, a woman implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the first woman judicially executed by the United States government.  Performances of the play always spark a lot of questions about the legal issues involved.  Those issues include not only the question of whether or not she was actually guilty but, also, the question of whether the military tribunal that heard the case was a legally valid venue in which to conduct the trial of civilians.

Robert Redford's new film, The Conspirator, delves into the same historical story (although, unlike my play, the film focuses its attention more on Mrs. Surratt's defense lawyer than on Mrs. Surratt, herself).  And the film again raises these same now-146-year-old legal issues -- issues that continue to be debated today.

The film prompted a California public radio station to do a story about both the history and the legal issues.  It includes an interview with yours truly.  You can hear the story, as well as additional audio from reporter Kitty Felde's interviews, on the Southern California Public Radio website.

Upstate N.Y. Village Repeals Public Art Ban

It was supposed to be only a six-month moratorium, but it was enough for artist Melanie Gold to file a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court against the upstate New York village of Greenwood Lake.  According to a Times Herald-Record newspaper article, when Ms. Gold announced her plan to paint a mural on the side of a private building, village officials enacted a six-month ban on public art to give themselves time to establish a new committee for the purpose of creating a public art code -- something the town apparently didn't have but the officials deemed to be an important first step to giving official blessing to publicly displayed murals.  Ms. Gold filed suit, claiming the ban infringed her First Amendment rights, and, she painted three public murals in protest.

According to the article, the suit was settled this month when the village agreed to repeal the ban.  A victory, it seems, for the artist.  Of course, if my math is correct, the six-month public art ban, which the article states was enacted on November 1st, was scheduled to end at the close of this month anyway.

"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.