08 July 2024

Immoral Rights

Because there's nothing "moral" about…

  • …authorship of Boléro asserted by the successors in interest, not the actual claimant(s). Especially not when attempting to improperly extend a copyright that had otherwise expired. The heirs to Ravel's estate (Ravel being the normally-and-by-consensus credited author/composer of Boléro) joined the heirs of Alexandre Benois (a stage designer who purportedly collaborated with Ravel on the production of Boléro) in asserting that Benois was a coauthor — which they claim would have extended copyright in the composition from already-expired 2016 to 2039 due to the differing dates of death. Unlike the US, France is uniform in measuring copyright from the date of death of the last-surviving author, with no foofery about pre-1978 works or works for hire. This claim failed, because — overdone rhetoric notwithstanding — absent other proof, especially documentary proof because all of the competent witnesses have been dead for years, there was nothing to establish collaboration on the composition.

    Indeed, at most there might have been a claim for the particular production, but even that would have been difficult given post-production declarations and the "Girl From Ipanema" problem: Absent proof of contribution to the copyrightable expression, there's no coauthorship claim in the first place. Sorrynotsorry, absent proof one can't ordinarily contemplate the stage designer as credibly contributing to the expression in a musical composition performed on that stage. This is distinct from the problem of early-on collaborators on films/screenplays, or books, or musical compositions (like this one), whose expression does survive being later cut out of authorship credit, and from the Raymond Carver/Gordon Lish problem involving the actual expression.

    What this really reflects is — yet again — transferees and patrons mistaking process for product in both creation of copyrightable materials and the copyrights (and related rights) themselves. But that discussion is for another forum and involves being not particularly nice to the author(s) of more than one copyright treatise; sometimes reality does intrude on the law (notwithstanding self-inflicted wounds where it… didn't).

  • It could have been worse, I suppose. Benois's heirs could have tried to create a postmortem-by-half-a-century digital persona to enhance publicity efforts. The could have taken the estate's proceeds and invested in performance venues without regard to actual performers' and composers' rights and revenues. They could have cropped photographs and omitted the photographer's name (or memeified them without permission or acknowledgement).

    Of course they might have: They're transferees, operating independently of actual creators (and, so far as I can determine, without any guidance from their purported creator, let alone the composer). The "creators" of 17 U.S.C. § 201(b) are invited to go perform anatomically impossible acts upon themselves, having only understood income streams from the product — neither the product itself nor the process that went into creating the product. Or, even more than understood, cared about.

  • From the Department of Phlogiston Studies comes this off-key "scientific study" of melodic sophistication since 1950 that ignores the presence of the ether — in this instance, the etheric airwaves. Neither that article nor the paper it discusses {partial $} engages with changing means of music consumption over the same period. For example, the 1950s mark the rise of the car radio — with all of the limitations in sophistication imposed by poor-range speakers and AM radio. And let's not forget the successor technology with all of its limitations: 8-track! (It also elides the problem with "melodic sophistication" being intertwined with, and not independent of, both vocal capability and lyrical integration. Not to mention the reduced emphasis on, well, actual musicianship, especially by "lead singers"…) In short, capability is an independent dimension not engaged with here.
  • The Chapter 11 (reorganization) plan of the Romance Writers of America was confirmed (approved), without objection, by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas this afternoon. In re Romance Writers of America, Inc., No. [20]24–32447 (Bankr. S.D. Tex.), dkt. 77 (08 Jul 2024) (no link, behind the PACER paywall; look for it on RECAP in a couple of weeks). On the one hand, this means there will be a national trade organization for both writers and fans of romance fiction going forward… unless they screw up compliance with the plan. On the other hand, the public accusations of DEI-problems-bordering-on-outright-bigotry substantially understated the reality. And this for a writing-category organization founded by a Black woman…