Thursday, July 12, 2012

I got 99 problems but copyright ain't one?

Caleb Mason has written a line-by-line analysis of the second verse of Jay-Z's 99 Problems from a Fourth Amendment perspective.  It's a song I know best as the source of the title of one of Supernatural's more misogynistic episodes, but the article offers a criminal procedure take.  There's a copyright angle, of course: though a line-by-line legal analysis is a clear fair use, a non-law review might never have allowed this to see print, because of rigid limits--sometimes outright bans--on quoting songs without permission.

For authors who encounter permissions problems with overanxious gatekeepers, I recommend looking for any subject-matter specific (or close) fair use best practices guidelines. Compliance with them, as with the documentary filmmakers' guidelines or poetry guidelines, can convince gatekeepers to allow fair use, especially if you can get an outside review.

Gatekeepers worry about songs, poetry and images much more than about, say, quoting big chunks of other texts, which has helped keep analysis of the former genres limited compared to textual analysis.  This reflects not just market structures but also ideologies of authorship.  (Compare the economic value of music with that of poetry: only adding in the romantic view of authorship explains why poets are (or are perceived as) so willing to threaten literary studies of their works.)  I also think there's something going on about differential valuing of genres, especially performance-related genres, though it's always hard to tell how that will play out--whether the "lower" status of certain genres will make fair use seem less necessary or less harmful.

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