This article originally appeared in the 10.1.15 issue of Metroland.
Well, it’s silly season on Facebook again, where the more
gullible amongst us get their knickers in a twist over some fake nonsense about
Facebook’s inherent evility.
the things that popped up this week, or versions of them, have been around
before, and they were debated, debunked, and banished.
But they’re back, demonstrating, again, how
oddly paranoid and delusional many of us are.
all, don’t you worry, Mark Zuckerman isn’t going to charge you to keep your
information “private” or to let you continue to use FB.
The twist with this ruse this time is that the
claim was supposedly backed up by an article somewhere on Huffington Post.
I spent a few minutes of my life looking for
such an article and couldn’t, but it doesn’t matter.
It’s not gonna happen, the very idea that it
could happen is ridiculous, and if you believed it, even for a second, you’re
there’s that bold “declaration” of privacy rights, where the poster stridently
proclaims to be master of his or her FB domain under some European UCC code and
all that’s holy, and that the reposting, use, pondering, smelling, or licking
of the poster’s content is punishable by slow death.
Do you really think that
your posting of some fake-legal gobbledy-gook is going to trump the terms of service
you agreed to when you
signed up for FB?
And where were you two years ago when this
crap went around the first time?
we live in a country so dumbed-down by the media that a good number of us
believe we walked among the dinosaurs 10,000 years ago, that the earth really
was created in a week, that the Kardashians are role models and that Donald
Trump is a serious choice for President.
We are a stupid idiot nation.
It’s just disheartening to be reminded.
You may have heard that a judge
ruled that music publishing giant Warner Chappell’s copyright in the song
“Happy Birthday” was invalid.
Warner Chappell has been shaking down filmmakers, television producers, and
anyone else who wants to use the ubiquitous ditty for hefty licensing fees, and
has also been getting big fat checks from ASCAP for things like when the
waiters at a Chinese restaurant gather around your table and sing “happy
birthday, dear customer….”
reported that WC has been raking in over $2M simoleons annually from this.
And pretty much everybody agrees that it’s
conferences have gotten interrupted when the audience decides to sing “Happy
Birthday”; Stephen Colbert introduced an alternative, hilarious, royalty-free
song people could use instead. But, until recently nobody’s challenged Warner
Chappell’s claimed monopoly on this silly little song we’ve all sung at
birthday parties hundreds of times.
some academics published a paper that showed that the melody of “Happy
Birthday” was definitely in the public domain and that the lyrics almost
Then in 2013 Warner
Chappell finally got sued.
past June, the plaintiffs uncovered an old songbook containing the lyrics that
was published in 1922, which would indicate that the lyrics were also in the
And last week the judge
ruled that Warner Chappell’s copyright was indeed a crock.
(or not), the judge didn’t rule that the lyrics to Happy Birthday were in the
public domain, as has been widely reported.
Not yet anyway.
decision is frustrating and complex, but in the final analysis, kind of hard to
It grapples with things that
may or may not have happened almost 100 years ago, based on shreds of evidence
that are at best ambiguous.
A pair of
sisters claimed to have written the lyrics, but didn’t register the copyrights
It’s not clear that they ever
authorized anybody else to register the copyrights either.
That songbook in 1922?
There’s no good evidence that the sisters
licensed the lyrics to it. Or didn’t! So what was Warner Chappell hanging its
A copyright registration from
1935 naming one Preston Ware Orem as the author of a “Republished Musical
Composition with New Copyright Matter.”
And the “new copyright matter” was described as “piano arrangement, with
The court ruled that since
Preston Ware Orem was not one of the sisters, and since everybody pretty much agreed
that the sisters wrote the lyrics, that the “with text” part couldn’t be
referring to the lyrics, and if it did, it was invalid.
Warner Chappell, say buh-bye to your cash
there is still some kind of copyright for “Happy Birthday” is unclear.
But given all the water over the dam, it’s
So, pending the almost
certain appeal of the decision by Warner Chappell, I say go ahead and use the
Happy Birthday to you!
Paul C. Rapp is an
intellectual property attorney and a crudely erudite student of the oddities of
popular culture. Like this here.