Category: Cinema, television and theatre

Copyright and the National Anthem – Bonus Links

Bonus, via flickrMy last three posts (here, here, here) have looked at some copyright issues around the national anthem. Their immediate context was Senator Mark Daly‘s National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2016 (effectively reviving a Bill that he had introduced into the last Seanad earlier in the year). To provide a little lighter reading on the topic, here are 4 sets of bonus links about the copyright, the anthem, or both.

Bonus 1: Alex Marshall (blog | twitter), author of Republic or Death!: Travels in Search of National Anthems (Penguin | Amazon), writing in the Irish Times (h/t Alex’s blog), put “The Soldier’s Song” into the context of other national anthems. It’s a very entertaining piece. While he bemoans the relative obscurity of Peader Kearney and Patrick Heeney, he consigns Liam Ó Rinn to oblivion – he finishes the piece with the first line of “Amhrán na bhFiann”, but he doesn’t name-check Ó Rinn at all!

Bonus 2: I was on the the Marian Finucane show on RTE Radio 1 the Sunday morning before last (listen here), on The Last Word with Matt Cooper on TodayFM the following Monday evening (listen here), and on the Shaun Doherty Show on Highland Radio the following Wednesday morning (listen here until the end of the week). On the latter two shows, it was just the presenter, Senator Daly, and myself, However, on the Marian Finucane show, as Marian was on holiday, the show was hosted by Brendan O’Connor; the others on the panel in the studio were Philip McCabe (Director, MABS), Brian Hayes (Fine Gael MEP for Dublin) and Sinead O’Carroll (News Editor,; and we were joined on the phone by Senator Daly (listen here). At the end of the discussion on the National Anthem, we were joined by Stuart Clark (Deputy Editor, Hot Press) and writer & journalist Sinéad Gleeson, to discuss the UK’s 60 official biggest selling albums of all the last 60 years (listen here).

The discussion covered not only what makes it on to such a list (greatest hits, recent releases) but what doesn’t (almost any musically influential pop or rock album ever), and some of the copyright stories behind the albums. It seems you can’t have a high-profile song these days without its accompanying copyright suit, whether it’s “Happy Birthday” being held to be out of copyright, to Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’s “Blurred Lines” being held by a jury to have infringed copyright in Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”, or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” being held by a jury not to have infringed copyright in Spirit’s “Taurus”. As to copyright stories from the albums on the list, Number 2 is Abba “Gold – Greatest Hits”, which includes “Chiquitita”, from which Abba shared the copyright and thus royalties with UNICEF. Number 3 is the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, some of the most lucrative US copyrights in which are owned by Michael Jackson’s estate, as Jackson outbid Paul McCartney in 1985, though McCartney is now working on various means of getting them back.

However, probably the two most famous pop music copyright infringements of all time feature on that top 60. At number 10 is Queen’s “Greatest Hits, Vol 2”, which includes Queen/Bowie’s “Under Pressure”, copyright in which was infringed by Vanilla Ice in “Ice Ice Baby”. The case settled out of court, but Mercury and Bowie now have writing credits on (and therefore get royalties from) “Ice Ice Baby”. At number 18 is the Verve “Urban Hymns”, which includes “Bittersweet Symphony”, which infringed the copyright in the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”. Again, the case settled out of court; but the writing credits for “Bittersweet Symphony” are now “Jagger/Richards/Ashcroft”; and all of the royalties go to the music company that owns the rights to “The Last Time”.

Bonus 3: There’s a Trinity connection with the anthem. For many years, the most familiar version was probably the orchestral arrangement used by the national television station, RTÉ, at the close of transmission each day. It was composed in 1961 for the launch of RTÉ’s television service by Brian Boydell (1917-2000), Professor of Music at Trinity; this is the version that was in use from 1961; this is a version that was used during Easter Week 1966; and this was the last closedown version:

Bonus 4: Here’s a 25-minute documentary on the anthem, produced by One Productions for the national Irish language television channel TG4. It is mostly in Irish with English subtitles, though some of the contributions are in English:

Bonus 5: “The Anthem Sprinters” (imdb | YouTube ) is an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre (a series than ran on US tv from 1985 to 1992). The episodes were written by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, and many were based on short stories or novels he had written. “The Anthem Sprinters” is the title piece in a collection of plays based on the his experiences in Ireland while writing the screenplay for the 1956 adaptation of “Moby Dick”. In “The Anthem Sprinters”, an American author on a visit to Dublin stops by a pub where he is caught up in the excitement over a local sporting event known as “anthem sprinting.” In this challenge runners compete to see who can get out of the cinema fastest during the pause between the end of the film and the start of the Irish national anthem.


There’s an adjective for #Gryzzl on “Parks and Recreation” – it’s dysagurian

Gryzzl HQThe mockumentary-style tv comedy series Parks and Recreation, according to Wikipedia, is “an American comedy on the NBC television network, starring Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a perky, mid-level bureaucrat in the parks department of Pawnee, a fictional town in Indiana”. According to IMDB, the series relates the “absurd antics of an Indiana town’s public officials as they pursue sundry projects to make their city a better place”. In Ireland, at least one season has been shown RTÉ Two; and in the UK, three seasons have been shown on BBC4. Alert: so, for Irish and UK readers of the blog who are fans of the show (and the Daily Edge recently gave 7 reasons why we should be), the remainder of this post is a great big spoiler.

At the end of series 6, Pawnee thinks they’ve struck gold when Gryzzl, an internet company marketing itself as “the cloud for your cloud”, sets up in town. But, in the farewell series 7, all is not well between Leslie and Gryzzl.


The Contract in The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins Contract, via AmazonFollowing on from my posts about the contract law issues in Shrek Forever After and The Muppets, another major movie brings us interesting contract law issues: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (blog | facebook | imdb | official site | twitter | wikipedia).

Warning: plot spoilers Bilbo Baggins is a typical hobbit, enjoying his quiet life in the Shire, when he is manoeuvred by the wizard Gandalf the Grey into hosting dinner for a company of dwarves. They tell him the story of how they lost their kingdom of Erebor and its great treasure to the terrifying dragon Smaug, and how they are now on a quest to reclaim their kingdom and treasure under the leadership of the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Moreover, since a company of thirteen (twelve dwarves, and Gandalf) invites bad luck, they tell him that Gandalf had proposed him as a fourteenth member, as a burglar. Bilbo and the dwarves are unconvinced, but Gandalf re-assures them that Bilbo will prove more than up to the task when the time comes (“Hobbits can pass unseen by most if they chose which gives us a distinct advantage” in sneaking past Smaug), so the dwarves present Bilbo with a contract to join the company (script | video clip, via blog and YouTube):

Thorin: Give him the contract.
Bofur: Alright.
[Background commotion]
Bilbo: [pleading for order] Please.
Bofur: We’re off.
Balin: It’s just the usual; summary of out of pocket expenses … time required … remuneration … funeral arrangements … so forth.
Bilbo: Funeral arrangements?
[Bilbo reads the contract, muttering to himself as he goes]
Bilbo: Oh … “up to but not exceeding one fourteenth of total profit if any”. Seems fair. … Ah … “Present company shall not be liable for injuries inflicted by or sustained as a consequence thereof, including but not limited to lacerations, evisceration … incineration”?
Bofur: Oh, aye. He’ll melt the flesh off your bones in the blink of an eye.
[Bilbo groans gently]
Balin: You alright, laddie?
Bilbo: Yeah, I’ll be. … Feel a bit faint.
Bofur: Think furnace, with wings.
Bilbo: Yeah, I-I-I need air.
Bofur: Flash of light, searing pain, then poof, you’re nothing more than a pile of ash.
Bilbo: Hmm … [long pause] … No.
[Bilbo faints]

The montage image above shows Bilbo reading the contract (replicas are available via weta, noble, and Amazon (here (US) and here (UK))). Bilbo eventually signs the contract, and goes on the unexpected journey (and adventure!) of the sub-title. There are many suggestions as to what the contract actually says, from the short version in the book (eg here, here and here) through attempting the decipher the considerably longer text in the movie (eg here, here, here and here) to working with the text in the replicas (eg here; pdf; updates here and here).


Law and Justice on the Small Screen

Law and Justice on the Small Screen, book cover via Hart Publishing websiteHart Publishing has just announced the publication of Law and Justice on the Small Screen, edited by Peter Robson (University of Strathclyde) and Jessica Silbey (Suffolk University Law School).

This is the book description from the Hart website:

Law and Justice on the Small Screen is a wide-ranging collection of essays about law in and on television. In light of the book’s innovative taxonomy of the field and its international reach, it will make a novel contribution to the scholarly literature about law and popular culture. Television shows from France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and the United States are discussed. The essays are organised into three sections: (1) methodological questions regarding the analysis of law and popular culture on television; (2) a focus on genre studies within television programming (including a subsection on reality television), and (3) content analysis of individual television shows with attention to big-picture jurisprudential questions of law’s efficacy and the promise of justice. The book’s content is organised to make it appropriate for undergraduate and graduate classes in the following areas: media studies, law and culture, socio-legal studies, comparative law, jurisprudence, the law of lawyering, alternative dispute resolution and criminal law.


The Muppets and Contract Law

The 'Stardard Rich and Famous Contract' in the Muppet Movie, via the Muppet wikiaI’ve recently had the great good fortune to see The Muppets (2011) (imdb | official site | wikipedia). Like the recent classic movie Shrek Forever After, it is very much a movie about contract law: indeed, both movies turn on cultural assumptions about the binding nature and literal enforcement of written contracts.

Warning: plot spoilers At the end of The Muppet Movie (1979) (imdb | wikipedia), the Muppets are hired by studio executive Lew Lord (played – in a splendid cigar-chomping movie-stealing cameo – by Orson Welles) under “the standard rich-and-famous contract” (pictured above left). It has the generally assumed form of contracts: it is long; indeed, it is vveerry long – it contains a multitude of clauses, and those terms are the heart of the new movie: The Muppets. Nancy Kim on Contracts Prof Blog mentions a few of the issues:

… the star of the new Muppets movie is a long, scrolled, fine print contract signed by none other than Kermit the Frog. The entire plot hinges on … a condition in the contract … A real live condition – but is it a condition precedent or condition subsequent? In addition, there are issues of nondisclosure (there’s oil under the theatre, but the evil Tex Richman isn’t telling). Is there a duty to disclose? When did Tex learn about the oil – at the time the contract was formed? Does it matter? Was Kermit tricked? Is the contract unconscionable? And finally, there’s the interpretation issue — the “theatre” is also called a “studio.” Is it the same building? Is there possibly a misunderstanding here?

In a very entertaining post about the movie and the legal issues it contains, Ryan Davidson on Law and the Multiverse points out that lots of commercial leases have a provision which will permit the tenant to purchase the property after a time, so the basic buy-out clause is not so unusual. But he has fun with the provision that the Muppets would lose the rights to their names if they lost the studio. No wonder then, that Adam Bonin on a list of things thrown five minutes ago refers to the “contract upon which Kermit failed to perform due diligence, highlighting the importance of hiring top-notch attorneys to protect one’s intellectual property”. And finally, my favourite line in the movie:

We all agreed, celebrities aren’t people.

Update: Disney announce new Muppet movie But will it feature any contracts, that’s what I want to know!

Bonus Link: Contracts Issues in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003) (imdb | official site | wikipedia).

What other movies are there out there that turn on contract law issues? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Should galleries and museums display offensive art?

'The Death of American Spirituality' by David Wojnarowicz (1987) from the collection of John Carlin and Renee Dossick, via the Queer Arts siteI have on this blog regularly discussed the extent to which offensive speech can be restricted. For example, there are many (many) posts on this blog on censorship and blasphemy. Furthermore, I have referred to the censorship of Guillaume Apollinaire (here and here), Carolina Gustavsson, Aldous Huxley, DH Lawrence (here, here and here), James Joyce, John Latham, Robert Mapplethorpe and Vladimir Nabokov. Moreover, I have analysed the kinds of reasons why this kind of speech should not be censored: free speech means freedom for the thought we hate, even that of David Irving (eg, here, here, here, and here), Jean-Marie le Pen, or Kevin Myers, and even – especially! – in multi-cultural societies, especially – especially!! – online.

I was reminded of all of this by two recent blogposts. (more…)

Turner, Garrow, Zong; Contract law and the slave trade, redux

Slave Ship by Turner, via WikipediaI love the paintings of WIlliam Turner (1775–1851). Every January, the Vaughan bequest of Turner watercolours goes on display in the National Gallery of Ireland, and every January I spend a happy Saturday afternoon in their company. One of Turner’s most arresting paintings is The Slave Ship (Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon coming on) (1840) which is now on display in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (thumbnail, left; click through for better image). It is inspired in part by the story of the slaveship The Zong (replica image | image | story | wikipedia). In 1781, the shipowners claimed under an insurance contract for the value of lost cargo, which consisted of 133 slaves thrown overboard because the ship was running out of water. The captain claimed he acted out of necessity; and in the infamous case of Gregson v Gilbert (1783) 3 Doug 232, 99 ER 629, [1783] EngR 85 (22 May 1783) (pdf | National Archives), the claim succeeded at first instance, but failed on appeal.

Although this action was for breach of contract, it is the inspiration for the main action in last night’s episode of Garrow’s Law (BBC | imdb | wikipedia), a BBC television series inspired by the life and times of 18th century barrister William Garrow. The credits provide

In the late 18th Century William Garrow led a legal revolution

Championing the rights of prisoners in court

These stories are inspired by his life and the Old Bailey archives of the time.

On a BBC blog, Mark Pallis argues that without Garrow “there would be no such thing as a courtroom drama” because he “made a drama out of the trial out of necessity”. And in an article in the Guardian he explains:

Garrow’s Law is inspired by his life and the cases from the period. … The transcripts of … real Old Bailey cases have been used as inspiration in the series … [but it] is not a biographical documentary. It’s a drama that aims to give viewers a real sense of what life was like in legal London towards the end of the 18th century; to give people a chance to experience the big legal landmarks and the cases that caused a stir at the time. One such case was that of the slave ship Zong, from which [133] … Africans were thrown into the sea, leading to an insurance dispute. The idea that throwing slaves overboard was regarded by the law in the same way as throwing wood, horses or any other “cargo” overboard was shocking enough to serve as a recruitment aid for the anti-slavery movement.

While this case did not involve Garrow, he would doubtless have been aware of it – and we felt we simply wouldn’t be doing justice to the period if we left it out, and so in our drama it is Garrow who tackles it. I like to think that, given Garrow’s personal policy of refusing to defend slavers, and the fact that, later in his life, he oversaw the first prosecution under the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, he would have been happy with the episode.

Although the actual action in Gregson v Gilbert was to enforce the insurance contract, in last night’s episode of Garrow’s Law, the insurance company has honoured the loss to the tune of £4000, but repented of it, and seeks to enlist Garrow as counsel to prosecute the captain of the ship for fraud. Hence, the historical civil action becomes a fictional criminal one, and Garrow is on the side of the angels (or at least not on the side of the devilish slave trade). The television show

‘moved’ the case to the Old Bailey, and made it criminal rather than civil so that it would be part of Garrow’s world. Despite this change, the key issues involved in the two cases are identical.

In the episode, the abilities of the captain were called into question at trial (as they were in the civil case), and Gustavas Vassa gave harrowing evidence of the middle passage (a fictional addition). However, it was not until James Kelsall, former first mate of the Zong, gave evidence that it had rained during the voyage before the slaves were thrown overboard that the trial plainly swung in Garrow’s favour. The jury accepted the evidence; and the captain was duly convicted. This evidence is fictional. However, in the appeal in the civil action, Lord Mansfield held that the ship-owners could not claim insurance on the slaves because the lack of sufficient water demonstrated that the cargo had been badly managed. The point is the same, but the television dramatisation makes it in a far more sensational manner. In any event, the case graphically demonstrated the ill-treatment of slaves being transported from Africa to the Americas, and greatly contributed to the abolition movement. Indeed, at the end of the episode, Garrow expresses to Vassa the “hope the country will make its own verdict” on slavery. It soon would, and not before time.

The trial scenes are powerful television, bringing home the appalling human misery behind the dry commercial realities of an insurance contract. As for Turner’s painting:

the critic John Ruskin, the first owner of Slave Ship, wrote, “If I were reduced to rest Turner’s immortality upon any single work, I should choose this.”

Shrek and the Law of Contract

Faustian bargains are at the heart of Shrek Forever After, the final chapter in the Shrek franchise, and those bargains raise interesting questions for the law of contract (even as the marketing of the film has raised others).

Like Australia (and in many ways even more than the obvious Paper Chase) Shrek Forever After is really A Movie About Contract Law!

Warning: plot spoilers When the movie begins, our hero, Shrek, is suffering a classic mid-life crisis; he is dissatisfied with married life, and pining for the old days, when he was a terrifying ogre rather than a domesticated tourist attraction. Rumpelstiltskin, the evil and manipulative magic deal-maker, offers Shrek the opportunity to spend a day as a real ogre again, in return for another day from Shrek’s childhood. The YouTube clip at the top left is the scene in which Rumpelstiltskin cajoles Shrek into agreeing. Having signed on the dotted line, Shrek is transported into an alternate reality. At first, he enjoys being fearsome one again. But the catch – and there’s always a catch – is that the day Rumpelstiltskin takes is the day of Shrek’s birth. This means that Shrek was not there to rescue Princess Fiona in the first movie; and her desperate parents, King Harold and Queen Lillian, turned to Rumpelstiltskin, and signed over the kingdom of Far Far Away to him in return for having all of their problems disappear. They disappeared, and the kingdom is now subject to Rumpelstiltskin’s tyrannical rule. It is a world where ogres are hunted criminals and Fiona leads the resistance; and when Shrek’s day as a frightening ogre is over, it will all be as if he had never existed. However, Donkey reveals to Shrek a sneakily-hidden exit clause in his contract with Rumpelstiltskin: if Shrek receives “True Love’s First Kiss”, the contract will be rendered null and void. So, the third act of the movie turns on Shrek’s efforts to get Fiona to fall in love with him and kiss him before the morning.

Just with the contracts at the heart of The Merchant of Venice or Peter Greenaway’s wonderful The Draughtsman’s Contract, the plot of this movie also turns on cultural assumptions about the binding nature and literal enforcement of written contracts – even dubious contracts. (more…)