Goodbye, Columbo

No one upheld the law like the tenacious, rumpled, raincoat-wearing Detective Columbo, whose trademark "Oh, just one more thing..." kept clever killers off balance and kept audiences coming back episode after episode.  But there will be no more "one more thing" returns for Columbo.  The actor who played him, Peter Falk, has died.

When he began playing Columbo in the 1970s, Mr. Falk's portrayal of a law enforcement officer was a marked turn-around from his earlier days as an actor, when he typically played people on the other side of the law.  I also can't help but also think that Columbo was a marked contrast to several of the present-day TV detectives whose gonzo police techniques often push, or seem to go beyond, the boundaries of constitutional limits.  I can't recall any episodes where Columbo had to be reprimanded by his superiors for violations of the Fourth or Fifth Amendments.  Those types of scenes are almost cliché for today's cops shows.

Although I have to admit that I have no recollection of Columbo ever reciting the Miranda rights to anyone.  Maybe that was one of those "one more thing" moments the cameras just never stuck around long enough to catch.

Harper Lee Prize Finalists Announced

The American Bar Association Journal and the University of Alabama announced the three finalists for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.? The finalists are: The Reversal, by Michael Connelly; The Confession, by John Grisham; and Fatal Convictions, by Randy Singer.

The Prize was created in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ms. Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockinbird, and, according to the ABA's website,?"will be given to the novel published in 2010 that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change."

A panel of judges will make the final award, which will be presented in September.? Among the criteria used to make the award will be public popularity.? If you care to vote for your favorite, you can do that at the ABA Journal website.

I'm Flattered; Now Stop It

The people who write songs for the musical theater are thrilled when someone likes their work enough to want to buy copies of the sheet music.

Did you catch the key word in that first line?  The word is "buy."  People who write music for a living earn that living by selling the music -- which includes the musical notation we generally call sheet music.

However, chalk up another glitch in this digital age.  Composers are finding more and more cases of unauthorized people putting copies of their sheet music online for free distribution.  That, my friends, is a violation of copyright law, and the music writers are steamed about this form of Internet piracy that's doing them out of the proceeds they're entitled to receive for their labors.

This was the topic of one of the panel discussions at this past weekend's national conference of the Dramatists Guild of America, held here in the D.C. area.  Theatrical music writers Georgia Stitt and Craig Carnelia, who are also members of a special committee created to deal with the piracy sitatuation, talked about the issue before a highly interested group of people who sat in the audience.  The problem is exacerbated by a public that seems to perceive the Internet as a free buffet.  Almost anything they come across online is just a click away from downloading and printing.  And, if there's free sheet music available at the flick of an index finger, how many are going to spend money to get the same thing?  The result -- the songwriters are losing a substantial portion of their income.

Among the things the panel and its audience discussed as possible solutions were: (1) greater education to make the public aware that unauthorized online sharing of sheet music amounts to theft, and (2) advancing technology to guard against internet piracy.

I disagree at least somewhat with those who say further education of the public is the real answer here, because I believe there might be a general perception that Internet theft of a few pages of sheet music (an item that often retails for less than five bucks) is roughly akin to swiping a few grapes off the produce aisle in a supermarket -- a relatively tolerable petty theft in the minds of many.  (You know how that defense goes:  "Hey, c'mon!  Lighten up!  It's just a grape!  It's not like I was stealing a turkey!")

So that leaves me with the "advanced technology" option, which I believe is going to be the ultimate answer -- although I've currently no idea how that answer will eventually manifest itself.

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.