The Grammy In Mathematics… Or Copyright Infringement?

from the you-decided dept

Slashdot points us to the absolutely fascinating story of how Woody Guthrie’s daughter was able to restore the only recording of her father’s live performance, that had been bootlegged using an old obsolete recording device. It took quite a bit of effort to restore the recording on an old wire-based device, and the effort got the mathematician who handled the restoration nominated for a Grammy, which he won. However, what struck me most about the story is that these days, people would be focused on how that simple act of recording would have been copyright infringement back when it occurred. Shouldn’t we be happy that exactly that kind of infringement is now what allows us to hear Guthrie perform live? I’m sure Guthrie himself would agree. After all, he famously had a rather similar view of copyrights to many of us around here: “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.” Unfortunately, those who manage Guthrie’s estate haven’t always been so kind — so it’s nice to see they recognized this recording as a potential gem, rather than an unauthorized recording.

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Comments on “The Grammy In Mathematics… Or Copyright Infringement?”

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14 Comments
Mark says:

Recording a live performance is not copyright infr

Sorry, but a work is only granted copyright when it is “fixed”. In fact, the person who originally made the recording is the person who owned the copyright on it, not Woody Guthrie.

Most live performances today come with a ‘no recording devices’ rule, but the power to prevent recording is contract law. I.e. It is a condition of entry to the venue. Nothing to do with copyright.

So if you come across a live performance in a public park, for example, you’re perfectly free to record it.

Jeffry Houser (profile) says:

There are two elements to copyright in this case..

There are two aspects to copyright in this case. Copyright of the songs and copyright of the recording. They are different.

It seems likely that Woody Guthrie owns the copyright to the songs; but the bootlegger owns the copyright to the recording. The worst “crime” the bootlegger could be responsible for was breach of contract; which was made with the artists + venue when he bought the ticket.

Mark, mentioned copyright was not granted until it was fixed. Although possible, it seems unlikely to me that this bootleg was the first time any of these songs put into a fixed format. And even if that were the case, I highly doubt that the bootlegger could lay any claim to the songs. For example, when a band goes into the studio to record songs the recording engineer does not walk out of there with copyright credit.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: There are two elements to copyright in this ca

The bootlegger doesn’t own the songs, just the recording thereof. If the artist found out about the bootlegs and seized them, they actually could not then sell or distribute them without the bootlegger’s permission. Ironic but I’ve seen it in action when bands break up, bitterly.

Your assertion about the engineer is true however engineers are under contract to make the recording for the artists and the contract then implies copyright will be handed over to the artist.

IANAL but I have enough experience that I could claim I slept at Holiday Inn or something..;)

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright in "unfixed" works

In the US, Federal copyright has “occupied the field” for fixed works but state/common law still governs copyright in unfixed works. It’s not technically correct to say that there is no copyright in an unfixed work. Rather, it varies from state to state whether there can be copyright in an unfixed work.

So, contrary to Mark’s advice, you are not necessarily permitted to record musicians in the park.

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