What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2024: Enjoy Classic Works by Virginia Woolf, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D. H. Lawrence, Bertolt Brecht & More

More than thir­ty years after it was first pri­vate­ly pub­lished in 1928, Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover became the sub­ject of the most famous obscen­i­ty tri­al in Eng­lish his­to­ry. Though the ulti­mate deci­sion of R v Pen­guin Books Ltd in favor of the pub­lish­er opened a cul­tur­al flood­gate in that coun­try, the nov­el was also sub­ject to bans else­where, includ­ing the Unit­ed States and Japan. Near­ly a cen­tu­ry after D. H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover — and a world apart as regards atti­tudes about pub­lic moral­i­ty — it can be some­what dif­fi­cult to under­stand what all the fuss was about. But now that the book has entered the pub­lic domain in the Unit­ed States, it could poten­tial­ly be made artis­ti­cal­ly and social­ly dan­ger­ous again.

The same could be said of a num­ber of oth­er notable works of lit­er­a­ture, from Vir­ginia Woolf’s sex-switch­ing satire Orlan­do to Bertolt Brecht’s piece of rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­ater Die Dreigroschenop­er (known in trans­la­tion as The Three­pen­ny Opera) to a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non-spawn­ing sto­ry like J. M. Bar­rie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Would­n’t Grow Up.

These and oth­ers are named on this year’s Pub­lic Domain Day post by Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, direc­tor of the Duke Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain. If not for mul­ti­ple exten­sions of copy­right law, she notes, all of them would have orig­i­nal­ly gone pub­lic domain in 1984, and we would now have almost four decades’ worth of addi­tion­al cre­ations rein­ter­pret­ing, re-imag­in­ing, and re-using them. Still, “bet­ter late than nev­er!”

At this point in his­to­ry, the arti­facts freed for any­one’s use aren’t just writ­ten works, but also films, musi­cal com­po­si­tions, and even actu­al sound record­ings. These include clas­sic Dis­ney car­toons Steam­boat Willie and Plane Crazy, which intro­duced the world to a cer­tain Mick­ey Mouse; live-action movies from major film­mak­ers, like Char­lie Chap­lin’s The Cir­cus and Carl Theodor Drey­er’s The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc; and such songs with broad cul­tur­al foot­prints as “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” “When You’re Smil­ing,” and “Mack the Knife” — or rather “Die Mori­tat von Mack­ie Mess­er,” in the orig­i­nal Ger­man from Die Dreigroschenop­er. Alas, those of us who want to do our own thing with Bob­by Dar­in’s ver­sion will have to wait until Feb­ru­ary of 2067.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ear­ly Ver­sion of Mick­ey Mouse Enters the Pub­lic Domain on Jan­u­ary 1, 2024

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2023: Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, Vir­ginia Woolf’s To the Light­house, Franz Kafka’s Ameri­ka & More

The Dis­ney Car­toon That Intro­duced Mick­ey Mouse & Ani­ma­tion with Sound (1928)

John Waters Reads Steamy Scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Banned Books Week (NSFW)

The British Library Dig­i­tizes Its Col­lec­tion of Obscene Books (1658–1940)

Bertolt Brecht Sings ‘Mack the Knife’ From The Three­pen­ny Opera (1929)

Watch Online: The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Drey­er (1928)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

An Early Version of Mickey Mouse Enters the Public Domain on January 1, 2024

Hap­py New Year!

We can now “do to Dis­ney what Dis­ney did to the great works of the pub­lic domain before him,” accord­ing to Har­vard law pro­fes­sor and pub­lic domain expert, Lawrence Lessig, hailed by The New York­er as “the most impor­tant thinker on intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty in the Inter­net era.”

On Jan­u­ary 1, Mick­ey Mouse and his con­sort, Min­nie, wrig­gled free of their cre­ator’s iron fist for the first time in cor­po­rate his­to­ry, as their debut per­for­mance in Steam­boat Willie entered the pub­lic domain along with thou­sands of oth­er 1928 worksLady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover, All Qui­et on the West­ern Front, and The House at Pooh Cor­ner to name but a star­ry few.

Dis­ney has been noto­ri­ous­ly pro­tec­tive of its con­trol over its spokesmouse, suc­cess­ful­ly push­ing Con­gress to adopt the Son­ny Bono Copy­right Exten­sion Act of 1998, which kept the public’s mitts off of Steam­boat Willie, and, more to the point, Mick­ey Mouse, for 25 years beyond the terms of the Copy­right Act of 1976.

But now our day has come…

Don’t be shy!

Dig in!

Dis­ney always did.

As Lessig remarked in a 2003 lec­ture at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty:

Walt Dis­ney embraced the free­dom to take, change and return ideas from our pop­u­lar cul­ture. The rip, mix and burn cul­ture of the Inter­net is Dis­ney-famil­iar.

Cin­derel­la, Snow White, Pinoc­chio — Uncle Walt knew how to take lib­er­ties and make mon­ey with cap­ti­vat­ing source mate­r­i­al, a tra­di­tion that con­tin­ued through such lat­er car­toon block­busters as The Lit­tle Mer­maid and Dis­ney’s Snow Queen update, Frozen.

Steam­boat Willie was­n’t con­jured from thin air either. Its plot and title char­ac­ter were inspired by Buster Keaton’s Steam­boat Bill, released two months before Disney’s ani­mat­ed short went into pro­duc­tion.

A few caveats for those eager to take a crack at the Mouse…

Steam­boat Willie’s new­found pub­lic domain sta­tus doesn’t give you carte blanche to mess around with Mick­ey and Min­nie in all their many forms.

Stick to the music-lov­ing black-and-white trick­ster with rub­ber­hose arms, but­ton-trimmed short-shorts, and the dis­tinct­ly rodent-like tail that went by the way­side for Mickey’s appear­ance in 1941’s The Lit­tle Whirl­wind.

Nor can Steam­boat Willie-era Mick­ey become your new logo. Plop the char­ac­ter down in new nar­ra­tives, yes. Use him in a rec­og­niz­able way for pur­pos­es of adver­tis­ing unre­lat­ed prod­ucts, no.

Mis­lead view­ers into think­ing your mash up is Dis­ney-approved at your own risk. A Dis­ney spokesper­son told CNN:

We will, of course, con­tin­ue to pro­tect our rights in the more mod­ern ver­sions of Mick­ey Mouse and oth­er works that remain sub­ject to copy­right, and we will work to safe­guard against con­sumer con­fu­sion caused by unau­tho­rized uses of Mick­ey and our oth­er icon­ic char­ac­ters.

Don’t think they don’t mean it.

Author Robert Thomp­son, the found­ing direc­tor of Syra­cuse University’s Bleier Cen­ter for Tele­vi­sion and Pop­u­lar Cul­ture told The Guardian that even though “the orig­i­nal Mick­ey isn’t the one we all think of and have on our T‑shirts or pil­low­cas­es up in the attic some­place,” the com­pa­ny is hyper­vig­i­lant about pro­tect­ing its assets:

Sym­bol­i­cal­ly of course, copy­right is impor­tant to Dis­ney and it has been very care­ful about their copy­rights to the extent that laws have changed to pro­tect them. This is the only place I know that some obscure high school in the mid­dle of nowhere can put on The Lion King and the Dis­ney copy­right peo­ple show up.

Per­haps your best bet is to make sure your work skews toward satire or par­o­dy, a la the infa­mous hor­ror film Win­nie the Pooh: Blood and Hon­ey, which cap­i­tal­ized on author A.A. Milne’s 1926 book, Win­nie the Pooh’s entrance into the pub­lic domain, while traf­fick­ing in some famil­iar char­ac­ter design. Dis­ney ulti­mate­ly let it slide.

Fumi Games is already poised to take a sim­i­lar gam­ble with MOUSE, a blood-soaked, “grit­ty, jazz-fueled shoot­er” set to drop in 2025:

If you’re not yet ready to take the plunge, Mickey’s pals Plu­to and Don­ald Duck will join him in the pub­lic domain lat­er this decade, so don your think­ing caps and mark your cal­en­dars.

For a more in-depth look at the ways you can — and can­not — use Steam­boat Willie-era Mick­ey Mouse in your own work, Duke Uni­ver­si­ty’s Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain sup­plies a very thor­ough guide here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Dis­ney Car­toon That Intro­duced Mick­ey Mouse & Ani­ma­tion with Sound (1928)

Mick­ey Mouse In Viet­nam: The Under­ground Anti-War Ani­ma­tion from 1968, Co-Cre­at­ed by Mil­ton Glaser

“Evil Mick­ey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japan­ese Ani­me Pro­pa­gan­da Film

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Her vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain, returns to New York City on Feb­ru­ary 29, 2024. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The 1920s Lie Detector That Forced Suspected Criminals to Confess to a Skeleton

“In the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” the ever­green Law & Orders open­ing cred­its remind us, “the peo­ple are rep­re­sent­ed by two sep­a­rate, yet equal­ly impor­tant, groups: the police, who inves­ti­gate crime; and the dis­trict attor­neys, who pros­e­cute the offend­ers.”

They fail to men­tion the life-sized skele­ton with ghast­ly glow­ing eyes and a cam­era tucked away inside its skull.

That’s because no police depart­ment ever saw fit to put Helene Ade­laide Shelby’s 1930 patent for a high­ly unusu­al “appa­ra­tus for obtain­ing crim­i­nal con­fes­sions and pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly record­ing them” into prac­tice.

Ms. Shelby’s vision sought to trans­form the police inter­ro­ga­tion room into a haunt­ed house where the sud­den appear­ance of the afore­men­tioned skele­ton would shock a guilty sus­pect into con­fes­sion.

(Pre­sum­ably an inno­cent per­son would have noth­ing to fear, oth­er than sit­ting in a pitch black cham­ber where a truth-seek­ing skele­ton was soon to man­i­fest before their very eyes.)

The idea may have seemed slight­ly less far-fetched imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing a decade when belief in Spir­i­tu­al­ism flour­ished.

False medi­ums used sophis­ti­cat­ed stage­craft to con­vince mem­bers of a gullible pub­lic that they were in the pres­ence of the super­nat­ur­al.

Per­haps Ms. Shel­by took inspi­ra­tion from Mys­ter­ies of the Seance and Tricks and Traps of Bogus Medi­ums: A Plea for Hon­est Medi­ums and Clean Work by “life­long spir­i­tu­al­ist” Edward D. Lunt. The sec­tion on “form mate­ri­al­iza­tion” pro­vides plen­ty of con­crete ideas for enact­ing such trick­ery.

Ms. Shelby’s pro­posed appa­ra­tus con­sist­ed of a “struc­ture divid­ed into two cham­bers:”

…one cham­ber of which is dark­ened to pro­vide quar­ters in which the sus­pect is con­fined while being sub­ject­ed to exam­i­na­tion, the oth­er cham­ber being pro­vid­ed for the exam­in­er, the two cham­bers being sep­a­rat­ed from each oth­er by a par­ti­tion which is pro­vid­ed with a pan­el upon one side of which is mount­ed a fig­ure in the form of a skele­ton, the said skele­ton hav­ing the rear J por­tion of the skull removed and the record­ing appa­ra­tus insert­ed there­in.

The exam­in­er was also tasked with voic­ing the skele­ton, using appro­pri­ate­ly spooky tones and a well-posi­tioned mega­phone.

As sil­ly as Ms. Shel­by’s inven­tion seems near­ly a hun­dred years after the patent was filed, it’s impres­sive for its robust embrace of tech­nol­o­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it per­tains to cap­tur­ing the pre­sum­ably spooked suspect’s reac­tion:

The rear por­tion of the skull of the skele­ton is removed and a cam­era cas­ing is mount­ed in the pan­el extend­ing into the skull, said cam­era being prefer­able of the con­tin­u­ous­ly-mov­ing film-type an hav­ing pro­vi­sions for simul­ta­ne­ous­ly record­ing pic­tures and sound waves, or repro­duc­ing these, as may be desired or required, the said cam­era impres­sion upon the hav­ing an objec­tive adapt­ed to reg­is­ter with the nose, or oth­er open­ing, in the skull. The eye-sock­ets are pro­vid­ed with bulbs adapt­ed to impress dif­fer­ent light inten­si­ties on the mar­gins
 of the film, the cen­tral sec­tion of the film being arranged to receive the pic­tures, the vari­a­tions in the light inten­si­ties of the bulbs being gov­erned by means of the micro­phones, and sele­ni­um cells (not shown), which are includ­ed in the light cir­cuit and tend to cause the fluc­tu­a­tions of the cur­rent to vary the inten­si­ty of the light for sound record­ing pur­pos­es, the den­si­ty of the light film vary­ing with the inten­si­ty of the light thus trans­mit­ted.

Ms. Shel­by believed that a sus­pect whose con­fes­sion had been record­ed by the skele­ton would have dif­fi­cul­ty mak­ing a retrac­tion stick, espe­cial­ly if pho­tographs tak­en dur­ing the big reveal caught them with a guilty-look­ing coun­te­nance.

Writ­ing on officer.com, Jonathan Kozlows­ki applauds Ms. Shelby’s impulse to inno­vate, even as he ques­tions if “scar­ing a con­fes­sion out of a guy by being real­ly real­ly creepy (should) be con­sid­ered coer­cion:”

Shel­by does­n’t seem to have got­ten any cred­it for it and nor am I sure that Shel­by was even the first to think of the idea, BUT if you remove the skele­ton fig­ure and the red light­bulbs star­ing into the crim­i­nal’s soul was this the inspi­ra­tion of a mount­ed sur­veil­lance cam­era? 

Allow me to push it even fur­ther … imag­ine your depart­men­t’s inter­view room. If you’ve got the cam­era in the cor­ner (or mul­ti­ple) let that be. Instead of the skele­ton fig­ure just put an offi­cer stand­ing in the cor­ner with a record­ing body cam­era. The offi­cer is just stand­ing there. Star­ing. Sure that’s a MASSIVE waste of time and mon­ey — of course. I may be wrong, but if I’m being hon­est this seems like intim­i­da­tion.

It also strikes us that the ele­ment of sur­prise would be a chal­lenge to keep under wraps. All it would take is one freaked-out crook (inno­cent or guilty) blab­bing to an under­world con­nec­tion, “You wouldn’t believe the crazy thing that hap­pened when they hauled me down to the sta­tion the oth­er night…”

What sort of hor­rif­ic spe­cial effect could force a guilty par­ty to con­fess in the 21st cen­tu­ry? Some­thing way more dread­ful than a skele­ton with glow­ing red eyes, come­di­an Tom Scott’s exper­i­ment below sug­gests.

Hav­ing enlist­ed cre­ative tech­nol­o­gist Charles Yarnold to build Ms. Shelby’s appa­ra­tus, he invit­ed fel­low YouTu­bers Chloe Dun­gate, Tom Ridgewell, and Daniel J Lay­ton to step inside one at a time, hop­ing to iden­ti­fy which of them had nicked the cook­ie with which he had bait­ed his crime-catch­ing hook.

The par­tic­i­pants’ reac­tions at the crit­i­cal moment ranged from delight­ed gig­gles to a sat­is­fy­ing yelp, but the results were utter­ly incon­clu­sive. Nobody ‘fessed up to steal­ing the cook­ies.

That’s not to say the appa­ra­tus couldn’t work with a sub­set of crim­i­nals on the low­er end of ele­men­tary school age. Did they or didn’t they? Why not scar ‘em for life and find out?

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detec­tion Kit”: A Toolk­it That Can Help You Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Sep­a­rate Sense from Non­sense

The Poly­graph: The Pro­to-Pho­to­copy Machine Machine Invent­ed in 1803 That Changed Thomas Jefferson’s Life

The Strange Sto­ry of Won­der Woman’s Cre­ator William Moul­ton Marston: Polyamorous Fem­i­nist, Psy­chol­o­gist & Inven­tor of the Lie Detec­tor

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

J.R.R. Tolkien Sent Illustrated Letters from Father Christmas to His Kids Every Year (1920–1943)

It does­n’t take chil­dren long to sus­pect that San­ta Claus is actu­al­ly their par­ents. But if Mom and Dad demon­strate suf­fi­cient com­mit­ment to the fan­ta­sy, so will the kids. This must have held even truer for the fam­i­ly of the 20th cen­tu­ry’s most cel­e­brat­ed cre­ator of fan­tasies, J. R. R. Tolkien. Before Tolkien had begun writ­ing The Hob­bit, let alone the Lord of the Rings tril­o­gy, he was hon­ing his sig­na­ture sto­ry­telling and world-build­ing skills by writ­ing let­ters from Father Christ­mas. The tod­dler John Tolkien and his infant broth­er Michael received the first in 1920, just after their Great War vet­er­an father was demo­bi­lized from the army and made the youngest pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds. Anoth­er would come each and every Christ­mas until 1943, two more chil­dren and much of a life’s work lat­er.

Every year, Tolkien’s Father Christ­mas had a great deal to report to John, Michael, and lat­er Christo­pher and Priscil­la. Apart from the usu­al has­sle of assem­bling and deliv­er­ing gifts, he had to con­tend with a host of oth­er chal­lenges includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to attacks by maraud­ing gob­lins and the acci­den­tal destruc­tion of the moon.

The cast of char­ac­ters also includes an unre­li­able polar-bear assis­tant and his cubs Pak­su and Valko­tuk­ka, the sound of whose names hints at Tolkien’s inter­est in lan­guage and myth. Since the pub­li­ca­tion of the col­lect­ed Let­ters From Father Christ­mas a few years after Tolkien’s death, enthu­si­asts have iden­ti­fied many traces of the qual­i­ties that would lat­er emerge, ful­ly devel­oped, in his nov­els. The spir­it of adven­ture is there, of course, but so is the humor.

Under­stand­ing seem­ing­ly from the first how to fire up a young read­er’s imag­i­na­tion, the mul­ti­tal­ent­ed Tolkien accom­pa­nied each let­ter from Father Christ­mas with an illus­tra­tion. Col­or­ful and evoca­tive, these works of art depict the scenes of both mishap and rev­el­ry described in the cor­re­spon­dence (itself stamped with a Tolkien-designed seal from the North Pole). How intense­ly must young John, Michael, Christo­pher, and Priscil­la have antic­i­pat­ed these mis­sives in the weeks — even months — lead­ing up to Christ­mas. And how aston­ish­ing it must have been, upon much lat­er reflec­tion, to real­ize what atten­tion their father had devot­ed to this fam­i­ly project. Grow­ing up Tolkien no doubt had its down­sides, as rela­tion to any famous writer does, but unmem­o­rable hol­i­days can’t have been one of them.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Let­ter From Father Christ­mas” To His Young Chil­dren

Dis­cov­er J. R .R. Tolkien’s Per­son­al Book Cov­er Designs for The Lord of the Rings Tril­o­gy

The Only Draw­ing from Mau­rice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illus­trate The Hob­bit

110 Draw­ings and Paint­ings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Of Mid­dle-Earth and Beyond

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed Christ­mas Cards That Were Too Avant-Garde for Hall­mark (1960)

Andy Warhol’s Christ­mas Art

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How to Win an Argument (at the U.S. Supreme Court, or Anywhere Else): A Primer by Litigator Neal Katyal

Do you like being right? Of course, every­one does. Are you suc­cess­ful at con­vinc­ing oth­ers? That’s a tougher one. We may polite­ly dis­agree, avoid, or scream bloody mur­der at each oth­er, but what­ev­er our con­flict style, no one is born, and few are raised, know­ing how to per­suade.

Per­sua­sion does not mean coer­cion, deceit, or manip­u­la­tion, the tac­tics of con artists, under­hand­ed sales­per­sons, or stereo­typ­i­cal­ly untrust­wor­thy lawyers….

Per­sua­sion is about shift­ing oth­ers’ point of view, respect­ful­ly and char­i­ta­bly, through the use of evi­dence and argu­ment, eth­i­cal appeals, mov­ing sto­ries, and “faith in the pow­er of your ideas,” as Neal Katyal explains in his TED pre­sen­ta­tion above, “How to Win an Argu­ment (at the U.S. Supreme Court, or any­where).”

Katyal’s job as a Supreme Court lit­i­ga­tor makes him an author­i­ty on this sub­ject. It may also dis­tract you with thoughts about the cur­rent Court pow­er strug­gle. Try to put those thoughts aside. In places where rea­son, evi­dence, and ethics have pur­chase, Katyal’s advice can pay div­i­dends in your quest to win oth­ers over.

In his first case before the Court a “hand­ful of years” after the 9/11 attacks, he rep­re­sent­ed Osama bin Laden’s dri­ver in a suit press­ing to rec­og­nize Gene­va Con­ven­tion rules in the war on ter­ror and to rule Guan­tanamo uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. His oppo­nent, the Solic­i­tor Gen­er­al of the U.S., had argued 35 cas­es before the court; “I wasn’t even 35 years old,” Katyal says. He won the case, and he’ll tell you how.

His most impor­tant les­son? Win­ning argu­ments isn’t about being right. It isn’t about believ­ing real­ly, real­ly hard that you’re right. Per­sua­sion is not about con­fi­dence, Katyal insists. It’s about empa­thy. Oral argu­ments in the court­room (which judges could just as well read in tran­script form) show us as much, he says.

When his legal exper­tise was not help­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the big tri­al, Katyal felt des­per­ate and hired an act­ing coach, who trained him in such tech­niques as hold­ing hands while mak­ing his argu­ments. What? Yes, that’s exact­ly what Katyal said. But he did it, and it worked.

Hold­ing hands with the Jus­tices isn’t an option in court, but Katyal found oth­er ways to remind him­self to stay close to what mat­tered, wear­ing acces­sories his par­ents had giv­en him, for exam­ple, and writ­ing his children’s names on a legal pad: “That’s why I’m doing this, for them. To leave the coun­try bet­ter than I found it.”

Once he had estab­lished his pri­vate rea­sons for car­ing, he was ready to present his pub­lic rea­sons. As the old say­ing goes, “peo­ple don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” The facts absolute­ly mat­ter, yet the bur­den of show­ing how and why facts mat­ter falls to the per­suad­er, whose own pas­sion, integri­ty, com­mit­ment, etc. will go a long way toward mak­ing an audi­ence recep­tive.

This advice applies in any sit­u­a­tion, but if you’re won­der­ing how to move Katyal’s advice online.… well, maybe the ulti­mate les­son here is that we’re at our most per­sua­sive when we’re close enough—physically or virtually—to take some­body’s hand.…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read An Illus­trat­ed Book of Bad Argu­ments: A Fun Primer on How to Strength­en, Not Weak­en, Your Argu­ments

Lit­er­ary The­o­rist Stan­ley Fish Offers a Free Course on Rhetoric, or the Pow­er of Argu­ments

How to Argue With Kind­ness and Care: 4 Rules from Philoso­pher Daniel Den­nett

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Every Possible Melody Has Been Copyrighted, and They’re Now Released into the Public Domain

When Helen Keller was only twelve years old, she stood accused of pla­gia­riz­ing a short sto­ry. A tri­bunal acquit­ted her of the charges, but when her dear friend Mark Twain read about the inci­dent years lat­er, he stren­u­ous­ly protest­ed, exclaim­ing in a 1903 let­ter, “the ker­nel, the soul—let us go fur­ther and say the sub­stance, the bulk, the actu­al and valu­able mate­r­i­al of all human utterance—is pla­gia­rism.”

Giv­en the finite num­ber of pos­si­ble nar­ra­tives, and com­bi­na­tions of phras­es, words, and syl­la­bles, he’s got a point, though it wouldn’t hold up in court where the ques­tion of intent comes into play.

Liti­gious artists and their estates fre­quent­ly sue oth­er artists whose work is too close to what they claim as their own inven­tion. Twain might say (his own copy­rights aside) that the idea of invent­ing art from scratch is an “owlish­ly idi­ot­ic and grotesque” fan­ta­sy. He might say so, for exam­ple, of the recent legal deci­sion that keeps Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” a form of pri­vate prop­er­ty, despite its author’s desire for any­one and every­one to sing and record the song. (Guthrie’s daugh­ter Nora claims she is pro­tect­ing it from “evil forces” who would mis­use it.)

If lit­er­a­ture is most­ly pla­gia­rism, what about music? How is it pos­si­ble to copy­right melodies when they float through the cul­tur­al ether, appear­ing in sim­i­lar forms in song after song around the world? What would have become of the blues, blue­grass, and near­ly every form of tra­di­tion­al folk music from time immemo­r­i­al had copy­right law pre­vent­ed unau­tho­rized bor­row­ings? These are ques­tions judges and juries often pon­der when faced with two sim­i­lar sound­ing pieces of music.

In one recent case, for exam­ple, a jury found that pop star Katy Per­ry had “infringed upon the copy­right of Flame, a Chris­t­ian rap­per who’d post­ed a song” with the same melody as her song “Dark Horse,” even though Per­ry “insist­ed that she’d nev­er heard of the song or the rap­per” as Alex­is Madri­gal writes at The Atlantic. “For some musi­ciansmusi­col­o­gists, and lawyers, the ver­dict felt scary; after all, large num­bers of songs now live on Sound­Cloud and YouTube. It became think­able to ask: Could the world run out of orig­i­nal melodies?”

This seems unlike­ly giv­en the “func­tion­al­ly infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties” for melodies result­ing from “all the notes and all the tra­di­tions of music around the world.” How­ev­er, when it comes to West­ern pop music and the more lim­it­ed para­me­ters that gov­ern its com­po­si­tion, the num­ber reach­es a more “com­pre­hen­si­ble part of fini­tude.” Pro­gram­mer, lawyer, and musi­cian Damien Riehl and his fel­low pro­gram­mer and musi­cian Noah Rubin decid­ed to “brute force” their way out of the prob­lem entire­ly, as Riehl tells Adam Neely above, using an algo­rithm that gen­er­at­ed all of the melodies in the range they’d seen in copy­right law­suits.

By gen­er­at­ing all pos­si­ble melodies above the middle‑C octave as MIDI files, the two artists hope to head off cost­ly infringe­ment lit­i­ga­tion that can hob­ble cre­ative free­dom. Riehl explains the inge­nious con­cept in the TEDx Min­neapo­lis talk at the top of the post, begin­ning with the issue of “sub­con­scious” copy­right infringe­ment that some­times forces artists to pay out mil­lions in dam­ages, as hap­pened to George Har­ri­son when he was sued for pla­gia­riz­ing “My Sweet Lord” from the Chif­fons’ “He’s So Fine.”

Maybe what the law has not con­sid­ered, says Riehl, is that “since the begin­ning of time, the num­ber of melodies is remark­ably finite.” Rather than invent­ing out of whole cloth, artists choose melodies from an already extant “melod­ic dataset” to which every­one poten­tial­ly has men­tal access. Now, every­one could poten­tial­ly have legal access. By com­mit­ting melod­ic data to a “tan­gi­ble for­mat,” Saman­tha Cole reports at Vice, “it’s con­sid­ered copy­right­ed.” Or as Riehl explains:

Under copy­right law, num­bers are facts, and under copy­right law, facts either have thin copy­right, almost no copy­right, or no copy­right at all. So maybe if these num­bers have exist­ed since the begin­ning of time and we’re just pluck­ing them out, maybe melodies are just math, which is just facts, which is not copy­rightable.

Riehl and Rubin have released their bil­lions of melodies under a Cre­ative Com­mons Zero license, mean­ing they have “no rights reserved” and are sim­i­lar to pub­lic domain. Avail­able as open-source down­loads on Github and the Inter­net Archive, along with the code for the algo­rithm the artists used to make them, the dataset might actu­al­ly have side­stepped the prob­lem of musi­cal copy­right infringe­ment with tech­nol­o­gy, though whether the law, writes Cole, with its “com­pli­cat­ed and often non­sen­si­cal” appli­ca­tion, will agree is anoth­er issue entire­ly.

via Vice

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Zep­pelin Took My Blues Away: An Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Zeppelin’s “Copy­right Indis­cre­tions”

Down­load Theft! A His­to­ry of Music, a New Free Graph­ic Nov­el Explor­ing 2,000 Years of Musi­cal Bor­row­ing

Pub­lic Domain Day Is Final­ly Here!: Copy­right­ed Works Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971

As we bar­rel toward the cen­ten­ni­al cel­e­bra­tion of wom­en’s suf­frage in the Unit­ed States, it’s not enough to bone up on the plat­forms of female pri­ma­ry can­di­dates (though that’s an excel­lent start).

A Twit­ter user and self-described Old Crone named Robyn recent­ly urged her fel­low Amer­i­cans to take a good long gan­der at a list of nine free­doms women in the Unit­ed States were not uni­ver­sal­ly grant­ed in 1971, the year Helen Red­dy released the soon-to-be anthem, “I Am Woman,” above.

Even those of us who remem­ber singing along as chil­dren may expe­ri­ence some shock that these facts check out on Snopes.

  1. CREDIT CARDS: Pri­or to the Equal Cred­it Oppor­tu­ni­ty Act of 1974, mar­ried women couldn’t get cred­it cards with­out their hus­bands’ sig­na­tures. Sin­gle women, divorcees, and wid­ows were often required to have a man cosign. The dou­ble stan­dard also meant female appli­cants were fre­quent­ly issued card lim­its up to 50% low­er than that of males who earned iden­ti­cal wages.
  2. PREGNANT WORKERS: The Preg­nan­cy Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act of 1978 pro­tect­ed preg­nant women from being fired because of their impend­ing mater­ni­ty. But it came with a major loop­hole that’s still in need of clos­ing. The lan­guage of the 41-year-old law stip­u­lates that the employ­ers must accom­mo­date preg­nant work­ers only if con­ces­sions are being made for oth­er employ­ees who are “sim­i­lar in their abil­i­ty or inabil­i­ty to work.”
  3. JURY DUTY: In 1975, the Supreme Court declared it con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly unac­cept­able for states to deny women the oppor­tu­ni­ty to serve on juries. This is an are­na where we’ve all come a long way, baby. It’s now com­plete­ly nor­mal for men to be excused from jury duty as the pri­ma­ry care­givers of their young chil­dren.
  4. MILITARY COMBAT: In 2013, for­mer Sec­re­tary of Defense Leon Panet­ta and for­mer Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen­er­al Mar­tin Dempsey announced that the Pen­ta­gon was rescind­ing the direct com­bat exclu­sion rule that barred women from serv­ing in artillery, armor, infantry and oth­er such bat­tle roles. At the time of the announce­ment, the mil­i­tary had already seen more than 130 female sol­diers killed, and 800 wound­ed on the front­lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  5. IVY LEAGUE ADMISSIONS: Those who con­ceive of elite col­leges as breed­ing grounds for sex­u­al assault protests and Title IX activism would do well to remem­ber that Colum­bia Col­lege didn’t admit women until 1983, fol­low­ing in the mar­gin­al­ly deep­er foot­steps of oth­ers in the Ivy League—Harvard (1977), Dart­mouth (1972), Brown (1971), Yale (1969), and Prince­ton (1969). These days, sin­gle sex high­er edu­ca­tion options for women far out­num­ber those for men, but the net­work­ing pow­er and increased earn­ing poten­tial an Ivy League degree con­fers remains the same.
  6. WORKPLACE HARASSMENT: In 1977, women who’d been sex­u­al­ly harassed in the work­place received con­fir­ma­tion in three sep­a­rate tri­als that they could sue their employ­ers under Title VII of the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex harass­ment was also unlaw­ful. In between was the tele­vi­sion event of 1991, Ani­ta Hill’s shock­ing tes­ti­mo­ny against her for­mer boss, U.S. Supreme Court jus­tice (then nom­i­nee) Clarence Thomas.
  7. SPOUSAL CONSENT: In 1993, spousal rape was offi­cial­ly out­lawed in all 50 states. Not tonight hon­ey, or you’ll have a headache in the form of your wife’s legal back up.
  8. HEALTH INSURANCE: In 2010, the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act decreed that any health insur­ance plan estab­lished after March of that year could not charge women high­er pre­mi­ums than men for iden­ti­cal ben­e­fits. This was bad news for women who got their health insur­ance through their jobs, and whose employ­ers were grand­fa­thered into dis­crim­i­na­to­ry plans estab­lished pri­or to 2010. Of course, that’s all ancient his­to­ry now.
  9. CONTRACEPTIVES: In 1972, the Supreme Court made it legal for all cit­i­zens to pos­sess birth con­trol, irre­spec­tive of mar­i­tal sta­tus, stat­ing “if the right of pri­va­cy means any­thing, it is the right of the indi­vid­ual, mar­ried or sin­gle, to be free from unwar­rant­ed gov­ern­men­tal intru­sion into mat­ters so fun­da­men­tal­ly affect­ing a per­son as the deci­sion whether to bear or beget a child.” (It’s worth not­ing, how­ev­er, that in 1972, states could still con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly pro­hib­it and pun­ish sex out­side of mar­riage.)

Fem­i­nism is NOT just for oth­er women.

- Old Crone

Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Library of Con­gress Dig­i­tizes Over 16,000 Pages of Let­ters & Speech­es from the Women’s Suf­frage Move­ment, and You Can Help Tran­scribe Them

MAKERS Tells the Sto­ry of 50 Years of Progress for Women in the U.S.

Women’s Hid­den Con­tri­bu­tions to Mod­ern Genet­ics Get Revealed by New Study: No Longer Will They Be Buried in the Foot­notes

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Data­base, Will Fea­ture Works by 600+ Over­looked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Cen­turies

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 7 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domaincel­e­brates the art of Aubrey Beard­s­ley. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Harvard Gives Free Online Access to 40 Million Pages of U.S. Case Law: Explore 6.4 Million Cases Dating Back to 1658

There was a time—a strange time in pop cul­ture his­to­ry, I’ll grant—when legal dra­mas were every­where in tele­vi­sion, pop­u­lar fic­tion, and film. Next to the barn-burn­ing court­room set pieces in A Few Good Men and A Time to Kill, for exam­ple, scenes of lawyers por­ing over case law with loos­ened ties, high heels kicked off, and mar­ti­nis and scotch­es in hand were ren­dered with max­i­mum dra­mat­ic ten­sion, despite the fact that case law is a nigh unread­able jum­ble of jar­gon, cita­tions, archa­ic dic­tion and syn­tax, etc… any­thing but brim­ming with cin­e­mat­ic poten­tial.

Do law stu­dents and legal schol­ars dis­agree with this assess­ment? It’s beside the point, many might say. The cen­turies-old web of case law—reinforcing, con­tra­dict­ing, over­turn­ing, cre­at­ing pat­terns and structures—is the very stuff the law is made of.

It’s a ref­er­en­tial tra­di­tion, and when most of the doc­u­ments are in the hands of only a few peo­ple, only those peo­ple under­stand why the law works the way it does. The rest of us are left to won­der why the legal sys­tem is so Byzan­tine and incom­pre­hen­si­ble. Real life rarely has the clar­i­ty of a sat­is­fy­ing court­room dra­ma.

Last year, The Har­vard Crim­son report­ed a seem­ing­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary shift in that dynam­ic, when Har­vard Law’s Caselaw Access Project “dig­i­tized more than 40 mil­lion pages of U.S. state, fed­er­al, and ter­ri­to­r­i­al case law doc­u­ments from the Law School library,” dat­ing back to 1658.  The Crim­son issued one caveat: the full data­base is acces­si­ble to the pub­lic, but “users are lim­it­ed to five hun­dred full case texts per day.” Plan your intense, scotch-soaked all-nighters accord­ing­ly.

Is this altru­ism, civic duty, a move in the right direc­tion of free­ing pub­licly fund­ed research for pub­lic use?  Sev­er­al Har­vard Law fac­ul­ty have said as much. “Case law is the prod­uct of pub­lic resources poured into our court sys­tem,” writes Pro­fes­sor I. Glenn Cohen. “It’s great that the pub­lic will now have bet­ter access to it.” It is indeed, Pro­fes­sor Christo­pher T. Bavitz says: “If we want to ensure that peo­ple have access to jus­tice, that means that we have to ensure that they have access to cas­es. The text of cas­es is the law.”

The law is not a set of abstract prin­ci­ples, the­o­ries, or rules, in oth­er words, but a series of his­tor­i­cal exam­ples, woven togeth­er into a social nar­ra­tive. Machines can ana­lyze data from The Caselaw Access Project far faster and more effi­cient­ly than any human, giv­ing us broad­er views of legal his­to­ry and prece­dent, and great­ly expand­ing pub­lic under­stand­ing of the sys­tem. Harvard’s Library Inno­va­tion Lab has itself already cre­at­ed sev­er­al apps for just this pur­pose.

There’s Cal­i­for­nia Word­clouds, which shows the most-used words in Cal­i­for­nia caselaw between 1852 and 2015, and Witch­craft in Caselaw, which does what it says, with an inter­ac­tive map of all appear­ances of witch­craft in cas­es across the coun­try. There’s “Fun Stuff” too, like a Caselaw Lim­er­ick Gen­er­a­tor, a visu­al data­base that ana­lyzes col­ors in case law, and “Gavel­fury,” which ana­lyzes “all instances of ‘!,’” giv­ing us gems like “Do you remem­ber if it was mur­der!” from Bowl­ing v. State, 229 Ark. 876 (Dec. 22, 1958).

One new graph­ing tool, His­tor­i­cal Trends, announced in June, makes it easy for users to “visu­al­ize word usage in court opin­ions over time,” writes the Library Inno­va­tion Lab. (Exam­ples include com­par­ing the “fre­quen­cy of ‘com­pen­sato­ry dam­ages’ and ‘puni­tive dam­ages’ in New York and Cal­i­for­nia” and com­par­ing “pri­va­cy” with “pub­lic­i­ty.”) Any­one can build their own data visu­al­iza­tion using their own search terms. (Learn how and get start­ed here.) Case law may nev­er be glam­orous, exact­ly, or fun to read, but it may be far more inter­est­ing, and empow­er­ing, than we imag­ine.

Be aware that the Caselaw Access Project could still find ways to restrict or mon­e­tize access, for a short time, at least. “The project was fund­ed part­ly through a part­ner­ship with Rav­el, a legal ana­lyt­ics start­up found­ed by two Stan­ford Law School stu­dents,” reports the Crim­son. The com­pa­ny “earned ‘some com­mer­cial rights’ through March 2024 to charge for greater access to files.” The start­up has issued no word on whether this will hap­pen. In the mean­time, pub­lic inter­est legal schol­ars may wish to do their own dig­ging through this trove of caselaw to bet­ter under­stand the public’s right to infor­ma­tion of all kinds.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bound by Law?: Free Com­ic Book Explains How Copy­right Com­pli­cates Art

Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

Har­vard Launch­es a Free Online Course to Pro­mote Reli­gious Tol­er­ance & Under­stand­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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