Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.
NPR this week reported on the decision of Maine’s new Republican governor to remove a mural from the State Department of Labor. The mural, by Judy Taylor, consists of 11-panels that “depict scenes from Maine’s labor history, including women working as shipbuilders during World War II, textile and woods workers and two strikes – one at a shoe factory in the 1930s, and the other at the International Paper Mill in 1980s.” The Governor asserts that it presents a one-sided view, making some citizens feel unwelcome in state buildings, but union activists regard the removal of the mural as ” a thumb in the eye to Maine’s working people,” particularly as it comes in tandem with the launch of “a contest to rename eight conference rooms that are currently named after icons, activists and historical figures in the Labor Movement, people such as farm worker and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Frances Perkins, a U.S. Secretary of Labor who was the first female cabinet member.” (NPR, NYT, Maine Sunday Telegram, Christian Science Monitor)
The art and art law worlds were abuzz this week over a U.S. District Court ruling in favour of photographer Patrick Cariou in his copyright infringement suit against Richard Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Cariou filed the suit over Prince’s appropriation of photos from his book Yes, Rasta for use in a series of paintings. Prince admitted to using at least 41 of Cariou’s photos but claimed fair use, arguing that he had transformed them rather than creating derivative images. The judge was not convinced, stating that that “there is vanishingly little, if any, transformative element.” Ultimately, she granted Cariou’s motion for summary judgment. The response of commentators has been mixed. Some consider the judgment a win for originality and hence for art. Others are concerned that it will have grave consequences for appropriation art and for fair use more generally. For more details on the case, and analysis of and commentary on the judgment and the issues that it raises, see A Photo Editor, the NYT, The Art Newspaper, Clancco, Ruling Imagination, and The Art Law Blog.
A preview of a new book by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: The Creation and Fragility of Courts in Democracies, appears in the Guardian, along with a slide show of images from it. Resnick and Curtis write: “The 220 images of our book map the relationship between courts and democracy and serve as reminders that courts, as the egalitarian institutions we know today, are relatively recent inventions. While venerable, they are at present also vulnerable.”
The big news in the book world this week was a U.S. federal court decision rejecting the proposed Google books settlement. The New York Times reports: “Judge Chin acknowledged that ‘the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,’ but said that the proposed agreement was ‘not fair, adequate and reasonable.’” He rejected the settlement on the basis of “copyright, antitrust and other concerns,” stating that “it would have granted Google a ‘de facto monopoly’ and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners.” Here again, reactions are mixed. Some consider the decision a victory for authors while others worry about the fate of orphaned works and how any ambitious digital library project might now proceed. The judge left the door open for a revised settlement, but many believe that the sort of revamping of copyright that the settlement sought to achieve ought to be the preserve of democratic debate and legislation rather than negotiation between private parties. (NYT, The Laboratorium, The Bookseller, Guardian, Globe & Mail)
New York’s Court of Appeals this week ruled that it was appropriate for Penguin to bring a copyright infringement suit in New York where its business is located against Oregon nonprofit American Buddha. The court was not persuaded by the argument that the injury should be deemed to have occurred elsewhere since the alleged uploading of the Penguin books had occurred in Oregon and Arizona. The court concluded: “The role of the Internet in cases alleging the uploading of copyrighted books distinguishes them from traditional commercial torts cases where courts have generally linked the injury to the place where sales or customers are lost. The location of the infringement in online cases is of little import inasmuch as the primary aim of the infringer is to make the works available to anyone with access to an Internet connection, including computer users in New York.” (Courthouse News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Law360)
The estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of Willy the Wizard, has been ordered to pay £1.5 million into court as security for costs before its plagiarism case against J.K. Rowling can continue through the UK courts. Justice David Kitchen has set this condition in light of his earlier determination that it is “improbable” that the case will succeed. Rowling has dismissed the claim that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was copied from Jacobs’ book “as ‘not only unfounded but absurd’, and said she had never even seen the book until the claim was launched in 2004.” (Daily Mail, The Bookseller)
The Coca-Cola Case, a documentary film that “chronicles a pair of lawsuits launched against the soft drink giant by the United Steel Workers of America and the International Labour Rights Fund in 2001 and 2006 on behalf of a Colombian union,” has been praised as “a vehicle for a global movement for corporate accountability and union rights.” But Coca-Cola has attempted to stop recent screenings, alleging the film to be defamatory. (The Tyee)
Heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman, are returning to court to appeal a limited grant of rights that has left some confusion over who owns aspects of the character’s mythology, the heirs or Warner Brothers. This is only the latest stage in a long-standing legal battle between the parties that has involved a number of lawsuits. (THR, Esq.)
Screenwriter Jake Mandeville-Anthony has filed a copyright infringement suit against Disney/Pixar in U.S. District Court claiming that animated film Cars and its soon-to-be-released sequel are based on characters that he created. (THR, Esq.)
It has been announced that a conference on “Bob Dylan and the Law,” co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law School, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal, is to be held at Fordham Law School on the weekend of April 4-5, 2011. (Law & Humanities Blog)
Adam Kirsch describes Marjorie Garber’s new book The Use and Abuse of Literature as “a leisurely and learned ramble through dozens, if not hundreds, of texts and topics” and finds justification for the seeming randomness of her method in “the way it enacts her central thesis: that literature is not so much a subject as an activity.” Kirsch disagrees with Garber on some fundamental points, but he makes the book sound irresistible to me when he posits an answer to the question implied in Garber’s title: “Paradoxically, she suggests that we abuse literature whenever we try to use it, and we use it properly only when we honor its uselessness. To ask whether a work of literature is ‘good for you’ or ‘bad for you,’ Garber writes in her introduction, is ‘judgmental and moral’; such moral effects ‘are incidental and accidental byproducts of literature, not literary qualities.’” Most intriguing. (Boston Globe)
There’s a marvelous essay by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) in the NYRB this week about his love of books. It opens with these tantalizing sentences: “The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup.” The essay is a preview of a collection of Bolaño’s non-fiction, translated by Natasha Wimmer, that is due to be published by New Directions at the end of May.
Michael Brodeur interviewed poet Kevin Young in the Boston Globe this week about his latest book, Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, described as “a sprawling account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad and its aftermath, told through a variety of perspectives and source materials, from letters the rebels wrote while in jail, to the imagined response of an interpreter (a former slave himself) who was brought in to question them.”
Karen Campbell writes of So Much Pretty, a debut novel by Cara Hoffman “based on a real case that the author encountered during her stint as a police beat reporter,” that it “effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. “ (Boston Globe)
This month Vintage Crime will reissue three mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Edgar Box. In the Boston Globe, Diane White writes of them: “The Box novels are minor works in the career of a writer who would become a versatile and prolific man of letters, but Vidal’s style — witty, literate, mischievous — is unmistakable.” Vidal claimed Agatha Christie as his primary influence for these efforts but, for him, according to White, “mystery takes a back seat to satire.”
The release of Henning Mankell’s latest and final Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man (translated by Laurie Thompson) has garnered much press this week, including interviews with Mankell in the Telegraph and the Guardian, an excerpt from the novel in the Telegraph, and reviews in the Independent, the NYT, and Euro Crime. Finally, there’s an entertaining piece in the Telegraph in which Judith Flanders sets Wallander’s exit in the context of those of other famous fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.