Legally Playwriting

Beginning tomorrow (Thursday, June 9, 2011) the Dramatists Guild of America will hold its first ever national conference on playwriting, and it will hold it in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  Among the topics to be covered are some of the legal issues that are near and dear to my heart -- things like fair use, contracting, and subsidiary rights.  These are the business aspects of playwriting about which most playwrights have little to no knowledge.

I've lectured on these topics in the past, but I won't be delivering these presentations.  The sessions will be conducted by the Guild's executive director for business affairs, Ralph Sevush, who is a lawyer, along with David Faux, who is also in the Guild's legal department.

You don't have to be a Guild member to attend the conference.  But you do have to register.  More information, including the schedule of events, can be found at the Dramatists Guild website.

Slam Dance at Tommy J's?

Let there be dancing in the streets...just not at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

A group of people were arrested last weekend for dancing in the famed Washington, D.C., landmark.  Officially, they were hauled in for conducting a public demonstration at the Jefferson Memorial without a permit.  It didn't take long after the dancing began for the Park Police to "cut in," so to speak.

Check out the video at YouTube, and you be the judge.

Tattoo Taboo

If you're planning on seeing the new movie, The Hangover 2 -- which I must admit I'm not -- there's apparently a scene in which a character wakes up from a drunken stupor to discover he has a tattoo on his face.  If the tattoo looks familiar, it might be because it resembles the one prize fighter Mike Tyson has on his own face in real life.  And guess what?  The tattoo artist who created Mr. Tyson's tattoo is suing the movie's producers for copyright infringement on the design.

According to a story in the Wrap, the artist, S. Victor Whitmill, has scored at least a partial victory because, while the judge refused his motion for an injunction to prevent the film's distribution, the judge also suggested that Mr. Whitmill's claims seem strong.

And why shouldn't a tattoo have the same copyright protections as any other graphic creation?  You can argue the artistic merits of certain visual works -- whether they be applied to canvas, paper, or even skin.  But that doesn't mean they don't fall under the protective realm of copyright laws.

A Quagmire of Musical Copyright

Yes, copyright law is supposed to benefit society by encouraging people to create works of artistic merit that then enrich the world through their distribution.  But sometimes the results of copyright can be the exact opposite of that intended goal.  Case in point, there's a newly discovered collection of recordings made of live performances of the swing era that includes many jazz greats performing the longer works that wouldn't have fit on the 78 RPM record discs of the time.  Following the owner's death, the collection came into the hands of the National Jazz Museum of Harlem.

"Hooray!" you jazz fans exclaim.  "Now we'll get to hear these recordings once they're released to the public."

But not so fast.  Apparently, the museum isn't planning on releasing them.  That's not because it wouldn't like to do that.  It's because tracking down the music's copyright owners and securing all the necessary permissions to release these decades-old recordings could prove a colossal task for the museum, and one it's not prepared to undertake.

You can learn more by reading the article in the American Bar Association's ABA Journal.  And, just as intriguing to me... If you want a good example of just how complicated copyright law can get, check out the legal debate in the comments at the end of the article.

Legal Writing Prefers Dylan

Sometimes a song just says it all...whether you're in love, feeling blue, or filing a legal brief.

Yes, quoting song lyrics has long been a practice in the legal profession, where sometimes lawyers or judges just feel the need to spice up otherwise dry filings or opinions with a familiar refrain from popular music.  And, as it turns out, Bob Dylan is the music writer of choice much of the time.

According to a Los Angeles Times story, a University of Texas professor did a content analysis in legal databases in 2007 and found that the music of Mr. Dylan, the author of such tunes as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," was quoted 186 times, far outpacing the second place finishers, the Beatles.