Grateful Dead Publisher Prevents Novelist From Quoting Lyrics
from the jerry-garcia-is-rolling-in-his-grave dept
The decades-long success of the Grateful Dead is a perfect example of how a band can make music without relying on the copyright crutch (by encouraging free sharing of the music, while making most of their money on concert tickets and merchandise). In the years since Jerry Garcia passed away, however, the band’s name seems to keep coming up in copyright disputes. The band itself sued Wolfgang’s Vault for offering videos and concert posters of the band (Wolfgang’s Vault is based on the “archives” of famed concert promoter Bill Graham, and each side claims ownership to the rights of promotional materials from the concerts). And, of course, Wolfgang’s Vault is hardly an innocent player here, having sued the publisher of a book about the Grateful Dead for using thumbnail images of concert posters. Luckily, the book publisher won that case, but both of these cases show how a system that works (i.e., the Grateful Dead’s business model) gets all screwed up when people start asserting ownership rights to content.
The latest example is much more ridiculous and much more damaging to creativity. Last week we wrote about how copyright is often used to hold back creativity, and this is a perfect example. Boing Boing points us to this story about how Ice 9 Publishing, the in-house publishing arm of the Grateful Dead has stopped a young adult novelist from using lyrics from their songs in his novel. It sounded like a rather creative use of Grateful Dead lyrics in such a way that would likely help attract a new generation of fans to the Dead’s music. In fact, the title of the book was originally supposed to be a Grateful Dead song title, but Ice 9 objected to that, too. Even though it couldn’t stop the book from using a song title as the book title, it threatened to not allow the use of other quotes in the book if the title wasn’t changed.
This makes very little sense, as it’s difficult to see what legal ground Ice 9 and the Dead have to stand on here. The use of these lyrics hardly harms the commercial potential of the Grateful Dead — and, almost certainly increases it. But, just the threat of potential copyright infringement lawsuits means that this book is not the book the author, J.T. Dutton, intended, and everyone is worse off for it. And, that’s yet another unfortunate example of copyright holding back creativity, rather than encouraging it.