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Tag Archives: film
March 4, 2013 – 7:51 am
September 13, 2011 – 8:07 pm
Below is a selection of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.
A U.S. district court has allowed a lawsuit brought against Hungary and its museums by the heirs of art collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to proceed. Herzog’s heirs brought the suit after unsuccessfully petitioning the Hungarian government for the return of art, collectively valued at more than $100 million, “most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary” (NYT). Hungary argued that it was entitled to immunity under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the court was not convinced. The lawsuit seeks the “the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet,” and “an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession” (NYT). (Sources: New York Times, Clancco, Reuters, Hungary on Trial)
A California court has denied Madonna’s bid to have a trademark case against her over her Material Girl clothing line thrown out. Retailer LA Triumph claims it has been using the name for a clothing line since 1997 and that it owns the trademark. Madonna argues that her use dates back farther to her 1985 hit song. But the court concluded that Madonna’s argument was an insufficient basis for the summary judgment that she sought: “This Court and other courts have recognized that the singing of a song does not create a trademark.” Thus the case will continue on to trial. (Sources: Hollywood Reporter, BBC)
A Paris court has found that television newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor breached the privacy of a former lover through his undisguised portrait of her in a 2009 novel Fragments of a Lost Woman. In addition to many details drawn from her life, the book included virtual word-for-word copies of eleven letters that she had written to him. Poivre d’Arvor argued that the book was a work of fiction based on his “numerous female conquests,” but the court was not persuaded, concluding: “The literary procedures used do not allow the reader to differentiate the characters from reality, such that the work cannot be qualified as fictional.” The court imposed a fine and a ban on reprinting of the novel. (Source: Telegraph)
Matthew Jones, author of the screenplay for Boot Tracks and the novel upon which it was based, is suing the director and producers of the film. He claims that they made unauthorized changes to the script which constitute a breach of an option agreement. His complaint reads in part: “Defendant Jacobson and Rattner promised that the screenplay would not be changed, that they understood the unique artistic integrity of the screenplay and that if changes did have to be made in order to secure financing that plaintiff would be the only one allowed to make said changes, which would be consistent with the authenticity of the novel.” In addition to breach of contract, Jones alleges copyright infringement and fraud. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent release of the film. (Source: Courthouse News, Hat tip: @Copycense)
Prompted by the impending release of an eagerly anticipated new film adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley, Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the best British spy novels. Click here to see his list and assess his choices. Has he left out any must-reads?
In an interview with the Guardian, A.D. Miller discusses his Booker-shortlisted novel Snowdrops which features as its narrator “a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom.” Definitely one that I’m keen to read.
German lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach has garnered high praise for short stories based on his criminal defense work. But in his latest work of fiction, he has turned to the past, tackling his fraught family history. The soon to be published novel, Der Fall Collini, includes a character based on his grandfather who was leader of the Hitler Youth and ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. The Guardian quotes from an interview that von Schirach did with Focus magazine: “If you grow up with a name like mine, by the time you are 15 or 16 at the latest, you have to ask yourself some basic questions and come up with some very basic answers that you can live with. It’s your responsibility.” His grappling with these questions through the medium of fiction will doubtless make for though-provoking reading. I don’t know when an English translation is due to be published, but I will certainly be watching for it.
Reviewer Joanna Hines is pleased to have discovered in Death in August, the first installment in a mystery series by Marco Vichi set in 1960s Florence, a new detective (Inspector Bordelli) “whose company will be an enduring pleasure.” She pronounces the book: “A real find for anyone who likes their crime novels atmospheric, discursive, humorous and thought-provoking.” Sounds very promising. (The Guardian)
April 18, 2011 – 2:45 pm
Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week, with a smattering of extras from the two weeks prior for which alas, due to the usual end of term madness, I didn’t manage to put together roundups.
In the midst of what has been described in the New Yorker as China’s “most intense crackdown on free expression in years,” well-known artist and outspoken human rights advocate Ai Weiwei was two weeks ago detained by Chinese police as he attempted to board a flight at Beijing airport (Guardian). Government officials claim that Ai’s detention “has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression,” that he is, rather, “under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes” (AFP). Few outside of China appear to be convinced. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones opines: “Ai Weiwei has spoken out eloquently for the universality of human rights and the worldwide hunger for freedom. Even if all the charges China are apparently raising were true, it would not alter anything⎯and given his brutal detention it is reasonable to assume they are false.” Yesterday, an international protest organized by artists and curators was staged demanding Ai’s release. The New York Times reported beforehand that the form of the “planned protest⎯in which participants will bring chairs and sit down outside Chinese government buildings around the world⎯draws on an installation titled ‘Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs,’ which Mr. Ai did at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 2007.”
The distressing news that the artifacts looted from Egypt’s museums and archeological sites during the recent uprising numbered around one thousand was leavened slightly last week by the odd story of the recovery of some of them. It was reported that four priceless treasures, including a gilded wooden statue of King Tutankhamun, had been returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after being found by an employee of the Ministry of Antiquities in an unattended black bag that he happened upon in a subway station one morning on his way to work. A clip of the government news conference announcing the find can be viewed here courtesy of the Telegraph.
The Loving Story, a documentary film about the famous case of Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute as unconstitutional, has garnered a few mentions on legal blogs in anticipation of its showing later this month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Read about the film at Feminist Law Professors, and a bit about the case, its aftermath, and a forthcoming book about it at Concurring Opinions.
The New York Times reports that new guidelines from China’s censors “all but ban TV dramas featuring time travel” on the basis that they “lack positive thoughts and meaning” and may “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”
James Joyce’s estate, in the person of his grandson Stephen, is notoriously protective of copyright and has often proven hostile to requests for permission to use his work. Indeed, as reported in Discover Magazine, it recently sent a cease and desist letter to two scientists who had inscribed a line from Joyce’s work into the genome of a synthetic microbe. Against this backdrop, many found cause for celebration when singer Kate Bush revealed that “she has been given permission to use Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy from Ulysses, in a song to be released next month,” twenty-two years after an initial refusal. But, in the New Yorker, D. T. Max cautions against reading too much into this development. “After all,” he notes, Stephen Joyce “permitted the same passage to be used by Amber in the 2001 dance hit ‘Yes.’”
Warner Brothers has lost the latest round in the ongoing litigation over rights and profits between it and the heirs of the creators of Superman. A judge has denied its bid “to pry open secret documents that purportedly show an agreement between the estates of Superman co-creators Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel not to make further copyright deals with the studio.” Warner Brothers “argued that the agreement itself was a violation of the Copyright Act and couldn’t be insulated from discovery” while the Shuster and Siegel estates maintained that “those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.” (THR Esq.)
Controversy has surrounded the release of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul. It was first banned in Gujarat, a western state of India, on the basis of advance reviews in British papers which suggested revelations of a homosexual relationship, and proposals of bans in other states quickly followed (Globe & Mail). Some U.S. book groups then got in on the act, canceling appearances by the author (Boston Globe). Lelyveld asserted that the controversial passages have been taken out of context, telling the Times of India that he never alleged that Gandhi had a homosexual relationship and that “the word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book” (L.A. Times). The The Daily Beast reports that “three prominent descendants of Gandhi in India have publicly spoken out against [a] proposed [national] ban.”
According to Eric A. Posner, in A Thousand Times More Fair, Kenji Yoshino “argues that Shakespeare’s plays contribute to modern debates about law and justice, and he draws crisp lessons from twelve of those plays.” Posner concludes that “the quality of Yoshino’s readings varies considerably.” He praises the author’s capacity to “teas[e] out the meanings of complex passages,” but faults him for too often using Shakespeare’s work as “a bag of anecdotes to illustrate moral platitudes.” (New Republic) Gary Wills’ review is similarly mixed. Though he concedes that “the class on which this book is based is probably great fun,” he criticizes the limitations of Yoshino’s strategy of pairing plays with current events: “The plays are cut to such trite lessons to keep up the game of headline rummaging.” (NYT) Benjamin Ivry is more enthusiastic, finding Yoshino to be “a refreshingly engaging advocate for Shakespeare.” (Star-Ledger)
Crime, the fiction debut of German defense lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, is described by reviewer Boyd Tonkin as a “bizarre and unsettling collection of 11 stories about crimes and their consequences.” He expands: “Each tale whips along, a shock at every turn, like some beast with eyes of red-hot coal panting down a forest track at night. For, courtroom procedure aside, the spirit of the German-language Märchen really drives this book: eerie tales of the uncanny, as practised by Hoffmann, Kleist, the Grimms and even Kafka.” (Independent)
Jane Jakeman praises An Uncertain Place, the latest Commisssaire Adamsberg mystery by Fred Vargas, as a “wonderfully intricate and Gothic work” that “add[s] to Vargas’s usual parade of satisfyingly weird characters.” In it, Jakeman tells us, the author “lets herself go in a riot of vampiric complexities: her delights in plot and language are dolphin-like, leaping with pleasure at obscure Cyrillic messages, tracing Danubian family history and sanguinary lore.” (Independent)
Margaret Cannon pronounces Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness, which features the return of Mickey Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer, “a superb novel” that “is even better than its predecessor.” (Globe & Mail)
In the latest Invisible Ink column, Christopher Fowler reminds us of the charms of Sarah Caudwell’s clever and witty mystery series that features a professor of medieval law as sleuth aided by four barristers who serve “as a kind of ironic, adult Enid Blyton gang to help solve crimes.” He tells us that Caudwell, who was herself a barrister, “used her knowledge of tax and inheritance laws to add realism to the cases,” but that “apart from that they’re quite potty, with members of the team tromping around exotic locations dropping barbed bons mots to their mentor.” People have been recommending these book to me for years, and this might just be the prod I need to finally pick one up. (Independent)
March 27, 2011 – 5:20 pm
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.
March 25, 2011 – 6:25 pm
Earlier this week, I attended a most interesting lecture delivered by Kevin Courrier at the Revue Cinema on the femmes fatales of film noir. I was expecting to see and hear lots about my favourites from the classic noirs of the 1940s and 50s. But though Courrier made reference to them, he spent more time tracing their origins in 1920s and 30s European and pre-Code Hollywood films, and then documenting their survival beyond the classic period and into contemporary cinema. I suspect that Courrier took this tack because the emphasis of his previous lectures was on the classic period⎯this week’s lecture, though the first I’d attended, was the third in a five-part series on film noir. In any event, this before-and-after focus proved very thought-provoking, causing me to reevaluate my perceptions of the more contemporary films with which I was familiar, and introducing me to a number of early films that I hadn’t encountered before.
Although I’d seen some of the more recent films from which Courrier showed clips, I’d never really thought of them as noirs. This made me realize that my definition of noir in fiction is much broader than it is in film. With the former, I’m attentive to theme and character as well as style, whereas with film, for me, it’s all about how it looks. If it’s not gritty black and white with plenty of hats and cigarettes, noir doesn’t even occur to me. I recognize that this is a ridiculously narrow view, and I’m glad to have been jolted out of it.
With respect to the early films⎯the silent films and the pre-Code talkies⎯they were mostly new to me. I was intrigued to see demonstrated the extent to which the aesthetic of film noir was inspired by German Expressionist film, and the psychoanalytic themes by European film more broadly. And I was fascinated by the powerfully sexual and independent women featured in them and in the pre-Code Hollywood films. Courrier put forward a convincing case that the femmes fatales of film noir wouldn’t have come into being without those precursors, but that they were also, perhaps paradoxically, a product of censorship. The adoption of the Hays Code in the U.S., which became obligatory and was rigidly enforced as of 1934, meant that women on film could not thereafter be depicted enjoying the same sexual freedoms as before. But the ingenuity required to communicate obliquely what could no longer be presented openly pushed filmmakers to new heights of creativity such that sublimation became a hallmark of noir.
I came away from the lecture keen to further explore the pre-Code era and the transition to noir, armed with a long list of films with which to begin. For your weekend viewing pleasure, I’ve posted clips from some of those films below.
Heretofore, my acquaintance with the work of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau was limited to his masterful Nosferatu (I’m plotting a future post on the copyright litigation that that film provoked between Murnau and the widow of Bram Stoker). Now I can add his 1927 film Sunrise to my list. Here’s a famous scene from it featuring Margaret Livingstone as a mesmerizing femme fatale, along with one of the best depictions ever of the evil temptations of big city life:
This clip from a documentary on sexuality and censorship in early cinema not only provides glimpses of actress Louise Brooks in her most famous role as Lulu in the 1929 German film Pandora’s Box, but also a bit of context on the film industry of the time in the U.S. and Europe, and a strong sense that Brooks was as fascinating a character off screen as on:
Barbara Stanwyk is, of course, a familiar face to any fan of film noir from her starring roles in such classics as Double Indemnity. But her career began pre-Code, and her performance in the 1933 film Baby Face is, according to Courrier, the gateway that hooks many viewers on pre-Code Hollywood films. So perhaps this is the one with which to begin:
March 13, 2011 – 8:16 am
Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.
Art collector Robert Wylde has filed suit against the Gagosian Gallery in U.S. federal court for selling him a painting, Mark Tansey’s The Innocent Eye Test (reproduced above), that was partially owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wylde claims that Gagosian neglected to tell him when making the sale in 2009 that the Met, “where the work had once been on display, already owned 31 percent of it and had been promised by its longtime owners that the museum would eventually get the whole thing.” Gagosian has issued a statement asserting that it sold the painting in good faith, not knowing that the seller did not have clear title, and indicating that it will “vigorously defend itself.” (NYT)
The Art Newspaper reports that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work has escalated. The story began a decade ago when Norsigian stumbled upon and purchased the cache of negatives at a garage sale. Norsigian has not had the negatives authenticated via forensic testing, but nevertheless, last year, began offering for sale prints and posters billed as “Ansel Adams’ Lost Negatives.” The Trust, which has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute Adams’ images and to use his name, sued Norsigian for trademark infringement. Now, Norsigian “has launched a counter-suit, alleging slander, defamation, unfair competition, trade libel, civil conspiracy and wrongful interference with a prospective economic advantage.” In particular, Norsigian takes issue with comments made by the managing director of the Trust on CNN which cast aspersions on Norsigian and his authentication efforts. Further, Norsigian alleges that the Trust has pressured The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona to discredit his claims thereby interfering with his economic activities. The Trust continues to express doubt that the negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, and asserts the necessity of protecting his legacy. (The Art Newspaper)
Performance artist Marina Abramovic has won a copyright infringement suit against filmmaker Pierre Coulibeuf and Regards Productions. The superior court in Paris has ordered the defendants to pay Abramovic €75,000 for infringement of her rights and “for damage [to] the integrity of her work.” Further, the court has ruled Abramovic to be co-author of the contested films. (Clancco, The Art Newspaper)
According to the Guardian, the justices of the UK Supreme Court are this week “busying themselves with a case consisting of the heady combination of Star Wars, stormtroopers’ protective millinery, clay modelling and international copyright enforcement.” The case is the culmination of a longstanding dispute between George Lucas and Andrew Ainsworth, who produced the final 3D version of the helmet worn by stormtroopers in the first Star Wars film, and who subsequently made and sold copies. At issue is “whether or not it is a ‘sculpture’ for the purposes of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,” and, further, whether “a claim for infringement of a US copyright [is] justiciable, and indeed enforceable, by an English court.” (Guardian)
Five soldiers have appealed their defamation suit against Mohammed Bakri, director of the documentary film Jenin, Jenin, to the Israeli Supreme Court. They allege that the film portrays them as war criminals. The lower court ruled that the film does defame Israeli soldiers as a group, but that no reasonable person would interpret the defamation as being directed at the plaintiffs, who neither appear nor are mentioned in the film, as individuals. Supporters of Bakri allege political persecution, noting that the former Attorney General has declared his support for the plaintiffs and joined their appeal. (Haaretz)
In an open letter to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, archaeologists have called for the return of police to Egypt’s archaeological sites. They assert that “following the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month, a new unprecedented wave of looting and vandalism took place at various sites,” and urge immediate action to protect Egypt’s heritage. (Discovery News)
Publishers Weekly reports that the U.S. Supreme Court “this week granted a writ of certiorari in a case, Golan v. Holder, that questions the constitutionality of a federal statute that restored copyright protection to thousands of foreign works, including symphonies by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, books by Virginia Woolf, artwork by Picasso, and films by Fellini and Hitchcock.” The statute in question is a 1994 amendment to the Copyright Act designed “to implement intellectual property treaties.” The challenge was mounted by “a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers, film archivists and motion picture distributors who have relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods” and who argue that the amendment infringes their free speech rights. (Publishers Weekly, SCOTUS Blog, Wired)
Manju Kapur’s latest novel Custody is described in the Independent as a book “about the lives, loves and losses of wealthy, urban, middle-class Indians” in 1990s Dehli. But, Kapur says in an interview, it’s also “about child custody and the legal system. You can’t live in India and not be extremely furious about the legal system.” (The Independent)
Michael Eaude writes of Richard Zimler’s, The Warsaw Anagrams, a novel set in 1940-41 and featuring as narrator “a distinguished elderly psychoanalyst [who] has to leave his comfortable flat and move into the Warsaw Ghetto,” that it “is both a fast-moving, very readable mystery novel and a rich, serious book, in which Zimler makes us face the worst and pays tribute to those who died in the Holocaust.” (The Independent)
In a spotlight in the Telegraph, Gerard O’Donovan names his six favourite contemporary Irish crime novels⎯including on his list one of my own favourites, Tana French’s In the Woods⎯, and Val McDermid theorizes the enormous popularity of the genre in Ireland now.
In his classic crime column this week, Barry Turner highlights Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. I have long been a fan of the former, and am keen to check out the latter. (Daily Mail)
Douglas Star’s The Killer of Little Shepherds “charts the gruesome crimes of a man dubbed ‘the French Ripper’, Joseph Vacher, who murdered, mutilated and sexually assaulted 11 people” in 1890s France and, reviewer Rebecca Armstrong tells us, it is “more than a true-crime blockbuster with a historical edge; it is an account of the dramatic birth of forensic science, and a memorial not to a serial killer but to the pioneering men who caught him.” Armstrong concludes: “Star has created a book with every bit as much tension as a thriller, as much detail as a meticulous police procedural, and a court-room drama that’s up there with the best.” (The Independent)
March 6, 2011 – 9:10 pm
Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.
In the latest stage of a drawn-out court battle over ownership of manuscripts that Franz Kafka entrusted to his friend Max Brod, an inventory of the long hidden archive has been filed, but it is not yet clear whether it includes unknown work. The battle is between Israel’s National Library, and sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler who acquired the manuscripts from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod’s longtime secretary to whom much of his estate passed after his death in 1968. For a full background on the case and the many interesting issues it raises, see Elif Batuman’s fascinating and exhaustive account, current up to September, in the New York Times. (Reuters, Haaretz)
According to the International Publishers Association, books that had been banned by the recently ousted regime of Ben Ali are returning to bookstore shelves in Tunisia. And anecdotal reports from Egypt suggest that, similarly, “once suppressed titles [are] appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks” there. (Guardian)
Another week brings more legal challenges to proposed library closures in the UK, including one by Campaign for the Book, a pro-library campaign group headed by author Alan Gibbons, which involves a national challenge to the culture secretary’s response to library closures “in the light of his duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.” (Guardian)
The Guardian reports that a number of publishing houses, primarily in France, were subjected to early morning raids this week in connection with a European commission investigation into ebook price fixing. The commission released a statement indicating that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.” (Guardian)
The owner of now defunct publishing company New Century has been ordered by an Indiana court to pay a substantial sum in fines and restitution to authors whose promised books were never produced. (Indianapolis Star)
After an appeal hearing last week in Missouri, judges of the Eighth Circuit are considering whether or not Warner Brothers’ copyright in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was infringed by a t-shirt company’s use of images of the characters. Though the images came from publicity posters, they were in the public domain because they were distributed prior to registration of copyright. The court below nevertheless gave judgment in favour of Warner Brothers on the basis that, beyond the actual images, the t-shirt company was exploiting identifiable and distinctive characteristics of the characters developed in the movie that were entitled to copyright protection such as “Dorothy’s inherent wisdom coupled with her Midwestern farm girl innocence” and “the apparent inconsistencies of Scarecrow, (without a brain vs. wisdom and leader), Tin Man (without a heart vs. compassion and tenderness) and Cowardly Lion, (without courage vs. bravery and chivalrousness).” A major difficulty with this analysis, as pointed out by Dennis Crouch in a recent post on Patently-O, is that “the particular identifiable traits of the characters identified here (apart from the portraying actors) were all derived directly from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel that is now out of copyright.” It will be most interesting to see what the appeal court concludes. (Patently-O, THR, Esq.)
In the culmination of a case that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, CBS has succeeded in having a defamation suit against it struck out under California’s anti-SLAPP law as an infringement of its free speech rights. The action was brought by a couple who alleged that a pair of unsavoury characters in a CSI episode were a thinly-veiled, highly defamatory portrait of them. The characters on the episode as finally aired had the same first names and occupations as the plaintiffs, but a different though similar last name. But the scriptwriter, who was acquainted with the plaintiffs through an unsuccessful real estate deal, had initially used their full names in the script, and through leaks, their full names had been linked with the characters in online plot synopses. Nevertheless, the appeal court found that the court below had erred in refusing CBS’s anti-SLAPP motion. According to THR, Esq, Justice Nora Manella wrote that “the creative process must be unfettered, and even though Goldfinger [the scriptwriter] didn’t need to use real names as placeholders for guest characters, it would be imprudent to place legal pitfalls that disrupt a writer at work.” (THR, Esq., Metropolitan News-Enterprise)
A court case which many asserted would break new ground in testing the application of defamation law to Twitter in the U.S. is not to be. Hole singer Courtney Love is reported to have settled the suit brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over an allegedly defamatory Twitter rant for $430,000. (THR, Esq., Rolling Stone)
An archaeology professor from Loyola University in Chicago last week plead guilty “to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico.” He has agreed to return the artifacts and to assist the Bureau of Land Management with an investigation into a large-scale scheme to plunder New Mexico archaeological sites. (Chicago Tribune)
Barry Forshaw lauds Leif Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the first book in a trilogy which has as its central focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, as “an intricately detailed crime narrative” and also “a powerful state-of-the-nation novel.” He concludes: “Those who feel that crime fiction can tackle truly serious issues should pay attention to Persson’s magnum opus. They may tussle with the 500-odd pages, but they will end up hungry for later volumes of this ambitious trilogy.” (The Independent)
In a New York Times review titled “CSI: Georgian England,” Jason Goodwin offers this tantalizing summary of Imogen Robertson’s first novel, Instruments of Darkness: “It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.” (NYT)
Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies begins in 1985 on Guernsey Island, but reaches back to the Channel Islands’ WWII history of German occupation. Christian House praises the novel for dissecting “the legacy of this extraordinary time […] with precision and empathy.” He notes the unconventional means by which the tale is told, and ultimately describes the debut author’s achievement thus: “What is exceptional about this novel is the skilled manner in which Horlock records the domino-topple of such mistakes from one generation to another, a terrible inheritance in which yesterday’s conflicts undermine today’s peace.” I will definitely be snapping up a copy of this one. (The Independent)
February 25, 2011 – 6:14 pm
It has become something of a ritual for me at this time of year, just when I’m most eagerly anticipating the change of seasons, to attend a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and, most years, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra obliges me by staging one. Last night’s performance, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, was a triumph. Sufficiently blood-stirring to bolster me through however many weeks of winter we have left to endure.
There are a couple of legal stories associated with The Rite of Spring that I recalled only vaguely going in. But the excellent program notes by Don Anderson filled in some of the details. And, diligent law & the arts blogger that I am, I did a bit of research today to ferret out more.
The most interesting tale relates to its debut performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913. Though most often performed as a concert today, The Rite of Spring was conceived and debuted as a ballet, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by the Ballets Russes. The combined effect of Stravinsky’s music and Nijinsky’s choreography was such a shock to the sensibilities of its first audience that it provoked what has been termed the best-known classical music riot in history. (How many contenders might there be for that honour? If you know any other stories that challenge the genteel image of classical music, please share them in the comments!)
Stravinsky wrote of the event: “Mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning. Then, when the curtain opened on a group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke.” Carl van Vechten, who was in attendance that evening, explained: “A certain part of the audience was thrilled by what it considered to be a blasphemous attempt to destroy music as an art, and swept away with wrath, began to make catcalls and to offer audible suggestions as to how the performance should proceed.” Others chimed in with contrary views. The vociferous debate soon degenerated into fisticuffs in the aisles. The police were summoned but were unable to fully restore order. Some accounts assert that the police shut the performance down at the intermission, others that it continued on chaotically to the end. Subsequent performances were not similarly disrupted. In fact, they were ecstatically received, and ultimately the controversy surrounding the debut served only to further burnish Stravinsky’s rising star.
The Rite of Spring’s second brush with law involved courts rather than police, after it was prominently featured in Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film, Fantasia. At that point, Rite was in the public domain in North America, but it was protected by copyright elsewhere in the world, so Disney negotiated a licensing agreement with Stravinsky for a total of $6,000 to secure foreign distribution rights. Stravinsky was not impressed when he saw a preview of the film. He was unhappy with alterations that had been made to the music and he pronounced the performance of it “execrable.” But he did not seek legal recourse, whether because he believed the agreement he had signed precluded him from doing so or he was simply disinclined to litigate.
It was Boosey & Hawkes, music publishers who had purchased rights to the composition from Stravinsky in 1947, who took Disney to court decades later on the occasion of the release of the film on videocassette, alleging breach of contract and infringement of copyright in at least 18 countries. The litigation began in 1993 and continued for eight years, raising all manner of interesting issues about the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in international copyright matters, the effect of unforeseen technological advancements on licensing agreements, and the assignability of moral rights. Ultimately, however, after multiple court rulings, most but not all in their favour, Boosey & Hawkes settled for three million dollars.
To return focus to the music, here’s a bit of Rite-related viewing, courtesy of YouTube, to take you into the weekend.
Conductor Simon Rattle on Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring:
A recreation of the debut performance from the BBC drama Riot at the Rite:
And, finally, a snippet from the animated version in Disney’s Fantasia that Stravinsky found so objectionable:
February 21, 2011 – 4:16 pm
It’s Freedom to Read Week in Canada, an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, “that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
This means thought-provoking displays to peruse and events to attend all across the country.
Here are some of my options in Toronto:
Censoring Manga for Fun and Profit
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Christopher Butcher, manager of famed comic book store The Beguiling, will talk “about the many surprising and unfortunate ways manga are censored in North America, as artistic integrity is sacrificed out of fear and a desire to maximize profit.” On his website, Comics212, Butcher gives a bit more detail: “As for my talk, it’s going to go after particularly heinous examples of censorship, get into some of the reasons behind the changes, and into a larger discussion about censorship and manga in regards to the new laws in Tokyo and with our own beloved Canada Customs. It should be a lively discussion. Oh, and there will be adult images shown, so get parental permission before coming out kids!” For a bit of background on the issues he’ll be addressing, click here to read a recent interview with Butcher in the Toronto Star.
Sexual Outliers: Censorship, Advocacy Journalism and the Gay Press
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Yorkville Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Pink Triangle Press (PTP), publishers of Xtra and fab, will present a salon discussion “on moral puzzles involving censorship and free expression as covered in the gay press.” The question of how “queer communities [are] struggling to reconcile the fights for freedom of sexual and political expression with their desire to fight homophobic expression” will be explored through “case studies rang[ing] from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Toronto Pride Parade, to murder music, Canada Border Services Agency and queer-themed film.”
Challenging Books: Who Should Decide What Our Children Read?
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at the Gladstone Hotel, this panel discussion will be the centerpiece of the Book and Periodical Council ‘s annual celebration of Freedom to Read Week. The panelists will be: “Patsy Aldana (Award-winning founder and Publisher of Groundwood Books); David Booth (Professor Emeritus in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department in the OISE at the University of Toronto); Eve Freedman (Student and winner of TWUC’s Freedom to Read Award) and Peggy Thomas (Librarian and Library Service Manager at the Toronto Public Library)”. Questions to be addressed include: “Why is it that we continue to see controversial books removed or challenged in our school libraries and classrooms? When is removing a book justified? Where do we draw the line? Can we raise a generation of critical thinkers if we remove controversial publications from the system? Where should children learn about these difficult topics, if not in an educational setting? How can we prepare educators to address these controversial subjects?” Doors open at 6:00 pm, and the festivities begin at 6:30.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Hate
On Friday, February 25th, at 7:00 pm at the Toronto Reference Library Atrium, PEN Canada and the Toronto Public Library will present a panel discussion addressing such questions as: “How should we define hate speech? Who should censor it, and when should the right to free expression be invoked? “ The panel will be moderated by Steve Paikin, Host of TVO’s The Agenda, and will feature these panelists: “Susan G. Cole, author, playwright, broadcaster and senior editor at NOW Magazine; Jonathan Kat, op-ed columnist and comment pages editor for the National Post; Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership; and, Richard Moon, author and Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor.” Tickets are $10 at the door and the proceeds will go to PEN Canada.
For a listing of Freedom to Read Week events elsewhere in the country, click here.
Of course, you could also stay home and exercise your freedom to read.