Tom Lehrer, Culture And Copyright After Death
from the different-attitudes dept
But what caught my attention was some discussion that Lehrer has had with certain fans concerning the copyright on his works, whether or not it's okay to put them online and what happens to them after his death. The simple answer seems to be that Lehrer couldn't care any less about all of it.
While Lehrer has made startlingly little effort to ensure a future for his work, a handful of superfans have filled in the gap. One is Erik Meyn, a Norwegian who manages the Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel on YouTube, a feed of performance videos and playlists that has received more than 10 million views since 2007. Meyn originally posted content to the channel without Lehrer’s permission and called him from overseas in December 2008 to apologize, a conversation he later posted on the “Tom Lehrer!” Facebook page. An excerpt:There's also the discussion with a fan who has been in contact here and there with Lehrer for the past 20 years or so, who stopped by his house once, found Lehrer's master tapes, and Lehrer just gave them to him:
TL: Well, you see, I’m fine with that channel.
EM: You’re very kind. But my question is: Who in your family will take care of your copyright and your songs in the distant future?
TL: I don’t have a family.
EM: OK, but what do you think will happen to the channel and your songs? And if you have someone who will act on your behalf, could you give them my name in case they’d want the channel taken down?
TL: Yes, but there’s no need to remove that channel.
EM: I was just wondering what will happen in the future, because you’re certainly going to continue to sell records.
TL: Well, I don’t need to make money after I’m dead. These things will be taken care of.
EM: I feel like I gave away some of your songs to public domain without even asking you, and that wasn’t very nice of me.
TL: But I’m fine with that, you know.
EM: Will you establish any kind of foundation or charity or something like that?
TL: No, I won’t. They’re mostly rip-offs.
In 2011, Morris was rummaging through the Sparks Street basement, and alongside the collection of books and records Lehrer referred to as his “Noel Coward shrine” were two boxes marked “masters.” They were, to Morris, “the holy grail.” These were the original recordings of the 1959 album More Songs by Tom Lehrer: the orchestral session and outtakes and Lehrer’s recordings. Morris offered to help Lehrer remix them from half-inch tapes into stereo recordings.None of this is to suggest that any other artists should necessarily follow down the same path. But I always find it interesting to see artists who decide that the traditional concepts of copyright don't make any sense to them, and just choose not to have anything to do with them. Given that Lehrer is so influential on so many people in so many different fields today, it seemed worth sharing this little tidbit.
“Well, why don’t you just take them with you?” Lehrer said.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding?! These are the master copies!’” Morris recalled. “I was just trying to reassure him, I’ll be very careful with them, I won’t let them fall in the wrong hands, I’m not going to distribute copies to anyone without your permission.”
“I don’t care!” Lehrer told him. “They’re not worth anything to me.”