Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

JibJab Threatened Over Use Of Woody Guthrie Song

from the hello,-lawyer,-let-me-explain-satire-to-you... dept

For the last few weeks, the JibJab site and their amusing political parody of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" has been getting passed around the net. It's well done, and deserves much of the praise it's been getting. However, it appears the folks who own the rights to Woody Guthrie's music are anything but pleased, and are demanding that JibJab stop distributing the flash movie. Their biggest complaint seems to be that "This puts a completely different spin on the song," which will "damage" the song. Anyone who can't see how utterly ridiculous this is has no job watching over Woody Guthrie's music. Guthrie, after all, is the same singer who once put the following copyright notice on his work: "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." Apparently, no one told the folks at the humorless Richmond Organization.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Jerry, Jul 27th, 2004 @ 9:07am


    It's clearly parody, and the Supremes held this is ok in this decision. They wont get far with this suit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    drteknikal (profile), Jul 28th, 2004 @ 6:52am

    I hope so

    I can only hope they pursue litigation. Aside from a slam-dunk example of satire and parody, there would be the sheer joy of having Woody's ghost testify for the defense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Andy, Jul 28th, 2004 @ 10:27am

    A dangerous admission by the owners!

    The real question (legally speaking) seems to be whether the song is permissible parody (a commentary on the work), or is it satire (a variation of the work to comment on something else)? Don't ask me why courts draw this distinction, but that's what it is about.

    My first reaction, alas, would be that this is impermissible satire and non-parody. But apparently, the owners disagree when they claim "This puts a completely different spin on the song," which will "damage" the song. If that is their position, then they lose. Either the work puts a spin on the song, in which case it *IS* protectible parody, or it does not. Their best argument here on copyright grounds, at least, would be that the song is NOT a parody, but rather a non-transformative borrowing of the familiar tune to sell a commentary to someone else.

    The "spin on" issue is a direct take from the Luther Campbell case over "O Pretty Woman." No matter how ugly the spin (and 2 Live Crew's spin was an ugly one), that is protected and fair use. It is only when you are not spinning, but stealing (in the strict dictionary sense) from the work to comment on something ELSE (like the "Cat Not in the Hat" satire of the OJ trial) that you can sue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Mike G, Jul 28th, 2004 @ 12:18pm


    I literally have no idea if there's a connection, but The Lincoln Club (an influential Republican organization) is chaired by "Larry Richmond." The Richman Organizationís president is "Larry Richmond." Hey, it's not really an unusual name, but they're also both located in Southern California.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    william page, Jul 29th, 2004 @ 5:12pm

    This land

    The current owners of the rights to Guthrie's song "This Land" miss the original intent of the work and are claiming damage over work inspired by communism. Guthrie meant that this was eveyones land, a people's land just as the Bolsheviks told the czar before murdering him. Like many things it has changed over time and today it probably ranks behind the Star Spangled Banner, and America the Beautiful as our number three patriotic song.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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