Palins Take on ?Toon

Just like the flap that arose right after President Obama?s gaffe when he made his ?Special Olympics? joke on TV, you just knew there was going to be a recoil the moment this one hit the airwaves?

I?m talking about a recent episode of the Fox network?s animated TV show, Family Guy, which portrayed a Down syndrome character who said one of her parents was the former governor of Alaska.

Just in case it?s not incredibly obvious, former Alaska Governor (and former Republican vice presidential candidate) Sarah Palin has a young son with Down syndrome. And, if she didn?t let David Letterman slide when he made a joke about one of her kids, you had to figure she wasn?t about to let this one go, either. Ms. Palin?s Facebook page features a response, mostly authored by her daughter, Bristol Palin, whose name found its way into both news headlines and comedians' punch lines when it was announced during her mother?s campaign that the teenage Bristol Palin was unwed and pregnant. As you might imagine, mother and daughter are displeased about what they view as a cheap shot from Family Guy.

If you?re asking yourself what legal standing the Palins might have to bring an action against the producers of the TV show, the answer is: probably not much. The cartoon character was never specifically identified as a Palin. And, even if it were, public figures (such as Ms. Palin and her family) are typically fair game for humorists under the First Amendment protections of free speech ? that is, so long as the speech doesn?t step over the line into something like defamation or false light.

Undoubtedly, many will say the show stepped way over the line on this occasion in terms of its chosen target for humor. And, from a good taste perspective, there are many reasonable arguments that can be made to back up that opinion. However, the First Amendment protects even offensive speech. So it takes more than just being offended to bring a lawsuit over something someone said on TV.

Off We Go into the White Stripes' Bother

You can always count on the Super Bowl to provide some type of after-game brouhaha to give us something to talk about. And, as we all know, it isn't always the game, itself, that causes the fuss. (Can you say "wardrobe malfunction" or "racy commercial"?)

The newest source of post Bowl unrest comes from the band known as the White Stripes, which claims that the Airforce Reserve made unauthorized use of its song, "Fell in Love with a Girl," as part of a Super Bowl TV commercial. Apparently, the White Stripes isn't keen on having its music used for the purpose of recruiting enlistees. But, even if it doesn't mind, the band still has exclusive rights to such uses of its music, unless of course it gives permission for it to be used by others...which the band claims it did not.

The Air Force Reserve, on the other hand, is reported as having said it did not use "Fell in Love with a Girl" but, rather, used original music created for it by a company hired by its ad agency, and any similarity is -- as the well-worn saying goes -- purely coincidental.

I haven't yet heard anyone mention the word "lawsuit."

What the (BLEEP) Did They Sing?

Just in case you were wondering whether the days of bleeping certain words on TV were over, this past Sunday's Grammy Awards telecast answered that. Microphones were cut off during the singing of various lyrics that CBS chose not to broadcast.

Apparently, the network's decision to censor some words has drawn some criticism. Artistic liberty...First Amendment rights...yadda yadda yadda. Yes, it's a legal quagmire just fraught with debatable issues. Unfortunately, for the artists and their fans, the peril of running afoul of the Federal Communications Commission and its ability to levy big fines looms ominously over the heads of TV networks, and an abundance of caution usually wins out.

Now, as we all know, networks have incorporated certain formerly banned words in prime time programming over the last couple of decades -- including some from commedian George Carlin's list of the seven filthy words he thought we'd never hear on TV. But usually those programs contain a preceding disclaimer that parental guidance is suggested.

Hey, maybe the network execs figure, considering the music, parents won't be watching the Grammys to offer that parental guidance.

J.D. Salinger's Death Opens New Chapter

The reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, has died at age 91. The literary world bids farewell to one of the 20th century's most notable and eccentric writers.

Now we wait for the other shoe to drop.

The "shoe" to which I'm referring is the question over what is now to become of Mr. Salinger's long-coveted intellectual property. For years there have been rumors that he has written various stories that he locked away and wouldn't permit anyone to see -- let alone publish -- while he was alive. And then there were those who longed to turn Catcher, his iconic novel of a forlorn youth, into a movie. This, too, Mr. Salinger refused to allow while he was alive.

Well, now Mr. Salinger is no longer living and no longer here to guard the proverbial castle. And so opens a new chapter regarding his intellectual property...and what is to become of it.

As is always the case, our creations can outlive us for years. (Just ask Homer or Aristophanes.) But so, too, can copyright protection survive the mortals who created the intellectual properties it protects. Under current American law, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. So Mr. Salinger's copyrights are still very much intact.

Whether allegedly hidden stories are suddenly sprung from the vault, or Catcher becomes the next big Hollywood film project, is something that will depend entirely on whoever is now in control of Mr. Salinger's intellectual property. Sometimes it falls directly to heirs or will beneficiaries. Sometimes control is devised to a person designated as a literary representative of the estate. Either way, it's a whole new chapter for the works of Mr. Salinger.

The Right to Share???

I was watching a TV program the other day. Its topic was the legal issues surrounding unathorized digital downloading of music. Included in the show were various "people on the street" interviews, and one of the questions that was posed to the people was whether they believed it was okay to make copies of music recordings to share with friends. One interviewee acknowledged the rights of those who own the copyrights on the music, but then he also talked of what he saw as a competing interest -- the right to share.

The right to share? Did someone sneak in a new amendment to the Constitution when I wasn't looking? Where does it say "Congress shall make no law abridging the people's right to share copyright infringing duplicates of intellectual property"?

In all fairness, I can't fault too much the young man who gave that comment about his perception of a right to share. Lots of people who ought to know better labor under the same notion that there's absolutely nothing wrong with making a copy to share with a friend. It's the kind of activity that's been going on so long that people often don't even stop to think about whether or not it's legal.

But just for the record...There's no such thing as a right to share that which you don't own. I can't, for example, share my next door neighbor's car with some other person. I don't own my next door neighbor's car and, as such, don't have the right to give someone else permission to borrow it, even if my neighbor sometimes lets me borrow it. The same holds true for music or other forms of intellectual property. Only the copyright holder has the legal authority to say who does and doesn't get a copy.

So, while "share and share alike" is a noble and courteous custom, it's not the law of copyright.