Hits for Jesus
Iím not gonna talk about the Supreme Courtís recent free-speech
case. I just like saying ďbong hits for Jesus.Ē
Hey Bullwinkle! Hereís something we all might enjoy! The Intellectual
Property Society of Albany Law School is hosting a panel discussion
on fair use in copyright law on Tuesday, April 10 at 5 PM
in the Dean Alexander Moot Court Room. The panelists will
be: entertainment lawyer Owen Warshavsky from the NYC firm
Troutman Sanders; Jennifer Pariser, the vice president of
Business and Legal Affairs at Sony/BMG; Sheldon Halpern, the
Honorable Harold R. Tyler Jr. Chair in Law and Technology
at Albany Law School; and yours truly, the proprietor of the
biggest law firm in Housatonic, Mass. If you donít already
know, ďfair useĒ is the fuzzy legal doctrine that allows limited
copying of otherís works for various purposes, and is a crucial
factor for such things as appropriation art, parody, music
sampling, education, and especially that whole Internet-remix
culture thing that all the kids are talking about. I doubt
that any of us four panelists are going to agree on much of
anything, and the discussion is going to be lively and fun,
to say the least. And if thatís not enough to get you out
on a Tuesday, there will be a reception following the discussion.
Thatís polite-talk for free beer. See you there.
I tend to not think about tax issues much, other than paying
my own taxes when Iím supposed to, but thereís some tax legislation
in Congress right now that deserves your support. Grassroots
arts organizations often depend heavily on artist donations
for their survivalóhow many times have you gone to a fund-raiser
that features one of those silent auctions of donated artwork?
Half of the stuff on my walls I got that way, usually for
a ridiculous price so low that itís embarrassing or an insult
to the artist or both. Itís often a rather sad situation where
struggling artists donate their works to help support a shoestring
organization doing Godís work; it shouldnít be that way, but
there you go.
And to make it all the more ridiculous, the artist canít write
off the value of the work as a charitable donation. Under
current IRS rules, the artist can only write off the value
of the raw materials in the work. The cost of the paint, canvas,
clay, dried elephant dung, whateveróthatís the artistís tax
write-off. And to go from the ridiculous to the sublime, if
some collector first buys the painting instead and then donates
it to the organization, the collector can write off the full
fair market value of the work.
In my experience with a number of nonprofit organizations,
collectors rarely donate their acquired works. Artists always
donate. And they get screwed in the process.
Maybe not for long. There are bills before both the U.S. House
and Senate that would provide artists with a tax deduction
for the fair market value of their works when they donate
them to educational and collecting not-for-profit groups.
The bills have bi-partisan sponsors and could use a push to
keep from getting lost in the legislative shuffle. Theyíre
bills H.R. 1524 (House) and S. 548 (Senate). Write a letter.
John Perry Barlow was sure disappointing on Colbert the other
night. It was like he needed a nap while Colbert was loaded
for bear, as usual. Barlow was there to talk about the Electronic
Frontier Foundationís lawsuit against Viacom for demanding
and getting the removal of obvious parodies of Viacomís shows
from YouTube, in particular a mash-up of Colbert that MoveOn.org
had posted (Viacom owns Comedy Central, which owns The
Colbert Report). The lawsuit is a nice push-back to Viacomís
ridiculous $1 billion suit against YouTube for ďallowingĒ
Viacomís properties to be posted on the YouTube site. There
were all sorts of points to be made, mud to be hurled, and
Barlow barely threw a punch. Iíve seen Barlow speak a couple
times and heís brilliant and funny and engaging, but some
concepts just canít be made in a punch line, or as is always
required on Colbert, a counter-punch line. The two guys were
clearly operating on different speeds, and faster always wins.
My thoughts about the Viacom-YouTube suit are posted on my
blog, and suffice it to say that Viacomís suit strikes me
as largely a sham, and the fact that Viacom is on the short
end of a second lawsuit for being a bully bears that out.
And the MoveOn takedown isnít an isolated occurrenceóIíve
got a nephew whose skillful South Park parody was knocked
off YouTube by Viacom as well. Viacomís tactics amount to
throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and no doubt thousands
of perfectly legal works, works of parody and comment, have
gotten the boot because of Viacomís overaggressive nonsense.
What this is all about is the doctrine of fair use. And youíre
thinking, ďWhere have I heard of that before?Ē Go back to
the first paragraph. Thatís where.