Tag Archives: history

Kate Sutherland

ifls screening series presents Rex v Singh

Kate Sutherland

Legal History: Shelley Gavigan Launches Hunger, Horses, and Government Men

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of my colleague Shelley Gavigan‘s new book Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905.

Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description:

Gavigan uses records of ordinary cases from the lower courts and insights from critical criminology and traditional legal history to interrogate state formation and criminal law in the Saskatchewan region of the North-West Territories between 1870 and 1905. By focusing on Aboriginal people’s participation in the courts rather than on narrow legal categories such as “the state” and “the accused,” Gavigan allows Aboriginal defendants, witnesses, and informants to emerge in vivid detail and tell the story in their own terms. Their experiences — captured in court files, police and penitentiary records, and newspaper accounts — reveal that the criminal law and the Indian Act operated in complex and contradictory ways.

At the launch, Justice James MacPherson introduced the book as one about the prairies, history and law by a woman who loves the prairies, history and law. He pronounced it a beautiful, literary, readable book, and praised Shelley as a master storyteller who had succeeded in bringing the men and women whose stories she’d uncovered in the archives vividly to life. Shelley spoke about connections between the past and the present, highlighting how the people and the issues she had encountered in her legal aid work as young lawyer in Saskatchewan in the 1970s had ultimately led her to this exploration of the relationship between Aboriginal people and criminal law on the Plains a century earlier.

I had the opportunity to hear Shelley speak about her research on a number of occasions during the writing of the book, and I credit her accounts of the pleasures and frustrations of archival research as a good part of the impetus behind the historical turn that my own research has recently taken. So you can imagine the eagerness with which I snapped up a copy of Hunger, Horses, and Government Men last night, and how keen I am to begin to read it.

For more information on the book, click here.

Kate Sutherland

Take-Homes from the Museum of London’s Dickens Exhibition: An App & a Facsimile Manuscript

I’m immersed in Dickens these days, completing a draft of the chapter devoted to his 1844 copyright case in my book about writers’ lawsuits, and am consequently paying even more attention than I might otherwise have done to news of publications, exhibitions, and events related to the 200th anniversary of his birth.

This week, all the buzz is about Dickens and London, an exhibition opening today at the Museum of London which “recreat[es] the atmosphere of Victorian London through sound and projections,” thereby taking visitors “on a haunting journey to discover the city that inspired [Dickens’] writings.” On display are “paintings, photographs, costumes, and objects” including rarely seen hand-written manuscripts of Bleak House, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations. See the Telegraph, the Guardian, and BBC News for tantalizing previews.

But what is the Dickens fan who dwells far outside of London to do, besides book a flight immediately? Happily, there are a few elements of the exhibition that can be enjoyed at home.

First, there is Dickens: Dark London, an app for iPads and iPhones. Described as “an interactive graphic novel” based on Dickens’ late night walks about the city as described in Sketches by Boz, it includes narration by actor Mark Strong, and marvelously atmospheric drawings by illustrator David Foldvari. Also included is an 1860s map of the terrain overlaid with a current one for the viewer to navigate, as well as other interactive features. The first edition focuses on Seven Dials, with more material due to be added in subsequent editions each month through June 2012, echoing the serial publication by which most of Dickens’ work initially appeared. (NYT, Reuters)

Second, a facsimile edition of the original hand-written manuscript of Great Expectations is due to be published this month by Cambridge University Press. Crammed with crossings-out and scribbled-in additions, it enables a glimpse into Dickens’ creative process. See a detailed description and a slide show of some of its pages in the Guardian. For the frisson of seeing Dickens’ words in his own handwriting firsthand, a visit to the exhibition to see the original is still in order. But what luxury to be able to acquire a facsimile of it to study in leisure at home.

So, if a trip to London is not currently in the cards, a trip to the app store and/or the bookstore may provide some consolation.

Kate Sutherland

Arresting Images: Mug shots from the OPP Museum

I visited the Helen McClung Gallery at the Ontario Archives this week to see Arresting Images: Mug shots from the OPP Museum. The title is, of course, a clever play on words, but “arresting” is also exactly the right descriptor. These are photographs from which one cannot look away.

The exhibition is comprised of 100 mug shots that span from 1886-1908 from the collection of the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) Museum. The images on display are reproductions so that front (the photographs) and back (hand-written details about the person pictured and the crimes for which they were arrested) can be shown side-by-side. The details are extremely sketchy in some instances and extensive in others, including name, aliases, occupation, charge, age, height, weight, and sometimes even full Bertillon measurements such as the lengths of each ear.

Except in the case of the few that include tell-tale dual images of face-on and profile views (such as that of Lillie Williams above), absent those hand-written details, I couldn’t have guessed the purpose of the photographs without being told. At first glance, many appear to be old family portraits featuring men and women dressed in their Sunday best. Indeed, some of them are just that, photographs that cooperative family members gave to police. Others, though taken at the direction of police officers, were taken by commercial photographers in their studios when the police detachments in question had no photographic equipment of their own. Hence the fancy backdrops, formal poses, and artistic skill that mark them as studio portraits first and mug shots second (the latter sometimes a delayed realization when the viewer belatedly notes that the sitter is handcuffed to the chair in which he poses, as was the case for William Rae, in the image to the left of this paragraph).

But a number of those that were clearly taken by official police photographers are also very compelling portraits that can, in my view, hold their own alongside the work of the best portrait photographers. Their revelatory quality brought to mind the work of some of my favourite portrait photographers, for example, Mike Disfarmer and Richard Avedon.

But of course, these photographs have to be considered in context, not simply evaluated for their artistry, and here an element of discomfort creeps in, at least for this viewer. These were not willing sitters, photographed by consent. They had no choice but to comply, and to thereby have what were doubtless for many of them moments of shame and desperation recorded for posterity. The question of privacy certainly occurred to me as I peered into the window on those moments that the photographs provide. I’m not suggesting any violation of privacy laws. The OPP Museum website indicates that Canadian privacy laws were carefully observed in the compilation of the exhibition—this is why all of the images included are more than 100 years old. Nevertheless, here they are, 100 people, captured for all time at one of their worst moments, forever associated with crimes of which, in some instances, they were only suspected, never even charged, let alone convicted. And here I am, gawking at them.

Yet, as I said above, I couldn’t look away. Each picture hinted at a story and I wanted to know that story. Indeed, particularly where details were sketchy, the fiction writer in me wanted to make a story up, while the legal scholar in me wanted to hasten to the archives to learn more (although I gather that the OPP Museum archivists, who are much better qualified for the task, have already discovered all the information available in connection with each photograph). And beyond the individual human stories, there is much to be learned from this exhibition about the history of photography and of policing. Fascinating all round, and well worth a visit.

Arresting Images is only on display in Toronto until the end of this week. But it’s a travelling exhibition which is due to visit other Ontario cities, including Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, in the new year. For more details, and to see more of the images for yourself, click here. And to buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue, click here.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, April 11-17, 2011

Photo by Grey Villet, from the documentary film The Loving Story

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)

Kate Sutherland

The Very Brief Legal Career of Robert Louis Stevenson

Last month, I wrote of lawyer-writers who successfully pursued simultaneous legal and literary careers. Robert Louis Stevenson was not one of them. Indeed, despite years of legal study at the University of Edinburgh, admittance as an advocate after passing his Scots Bar examinations “with credit,” and the above bewigged photograph (taken to please his mother), I don’t think that Stevenson can rightfully be claimed for the law at all.

Law wasn’t even his second choice after literature, but his second second choice. He came from a famous family of engineers, known as the Lighthouse Stevensons, and he began in that field. But, according to biographer Claire Harman, after “four years studying at the university” and “three summers on the works,” including stints “in a carpenter’s shop, a foundry and a timberyard,” Stevenson “still couldn’t tell one kind of wood from another or make the most basic calculations.” Even his father Thomas, who so dearly wished it otherwise, had to concede that Stevenson wasn’t cut out for the family business. That is not to say, however, that he was prepared to endorse a literary career for his son.

Stevenson’s cousin Etta tells the story thus:

I happened to be in the house when Lou told his father he did not want to continue to be a civil engineer. This was a great blow and a terrible disappointment to Uncle Tom, as for generations the Stevensons had all been very clever civil engineers; and already Lou had gained medals for certain inventions of his in connection with lighthouses. And Uncle Tom was more disappointed still when Lou declared that he wanted to go in for a literary life, as Uncle Tom thought he would make nothing at that⎯in fact that it was just a sort of excuse for leading a lazy life! Eventually it was well talked over, and Uncle Tom said that if he agreed to read for the Bar in order to become an advocate, after passing the examination, if he still persisted in wishing to go in for literature, he would not prevent it, for then he would have a good sound profession at his back.

Alas, Stevenson was as indifferent a student of law as he had been of engineering. His friend Charles Guthrie (later Lord Guthrie) recalled, “we did not look for Louis at law lectures, except when the weather was bad.” Harman elaborates: “A notebook that survives from his law studies is peppered with caricatures and doodles, and the few notes there are on Roman citizenship segue with comical readiness into a much more engaging daydream containing lines of a later poem.” Andrew Murray (later Lord Dunedin), stated bluntly that, although he and Stevenson were “very good friends,” they “did not really see much of each other” even as fellow law students, for: “I was interested in my profession⎯a profession which he frankly cared nothing about.”

If, in the words of another friend, John Geddie, Stevenson paid only “desultory attention” in his law classes, he did buckle down to study for the Bar examinations. But this study awakened no new interest in the subject, and it interfered with the work that really mattered to him. In a letter to Fanny Sitwell (later his wife), dated April 1875, he lamented: “I had no time to write, and, as it is, am strangely incapable. […] I have been reading such lots of law, and it seems to take away the power of writing from me. From morning to night, so often as I have a spare moment, I am in the embrace of a law book – barren embraces.”

Stevenson passed the examinations and was admitted to the Bar on July 14th, 1875. For a time thereafter, as was the custom, he “walk[ed] about the Parliament House five forenoons a week, in wig and gown,” seeking work from solicitors with cases before the Courts. He was not altogether unsuccessful in this endeavour. Guthrie recounted: “I do indeed remember one morning in the Parliament House, when he came dancing up to me waving a bundle of legal papers in great glee: ‘Guthrie, that simpleton So-and-so has actually sent me a case! Now I have tasted blood, idle fellows like you will see what I can do!'” But he was not offered many briefs, and he accepted even fewer. Guthrie made reference to only “four complimentary pieces of employment [Stevenson] is said to have received, the fees for which did not run into two figures.”

Stevenson wrote to Fanny that he found it “a great pleasure to sit and hear cases argued or advised,” but nevertheless bemoaned the fact that: “I lose all my forenoons at Court!” Before long, he gave up the charade and devoted himself full time to writing. The brass nameplate engraved “R.L. Stevenson, Advocate” that his parents had affixed to the door of their home at 17 Heriot Row remained, but Stevenson no longer walked the halls of Parliament House in wig and gown. In fact, he soon quitted Edinburgh, and Scotland, altogether.

Stevenson “had no natural taste for the law,” Guthrie concluded. Nor, it seems to have been generally agreed among his legal friends, did he have any particular talent for it. So Stevenson’s defection was no great loss to the law. But it was a great gain to literature. And his keen readers, among whom I count myself, can be grateful that, in the end, he chose a literary life.

Sources:

Sidney Colvin, ed., The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1900).

Lord Guthrie, Robert Louis Stevenson: Some Personal Recollections (1920).

Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (2005).

Rosaline Massin, ed., I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922).

* The photos of Robert Louis Stevenson as an advocate, and of his doodles in lieu of note-taking (albeit from his engineering rather than his law school days) are from the digital collection of the National Library of Scotland. The photo of 17 Heriot Row is one I took myself the last time I followed Stevenson’s footsteps round Edinburgh.

Kate Sutherland

Poetry & Law: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!



Poetry and law may seem to some as incommensurable as dancing and architecture. Not so, according to M. NourbeSe Philip: “Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language⎯the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both.” But language may be used to very different ends in each realm: “The law uses language as a tool for ordering; in the instant case, however, I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself.”

The story that cannot be told, the subject of Philip’s most recent collection of poems, is that of the Zong massacre. In September 1781, the slave ship Zong set sail from the east coast of Africa bound for Jamaica under the stewardship of Captain Luke Collingwood. The “cargo” consisted of 470 Africans. The voyage should have taken six to nine weeks but, due to navigational errors, stretched into four months. By the end of November, sixty Africans had died “for want of water for sustenance,” and forty more had thrown themselves into the sea “through thirst and frenzy thereby occasioned.” A further 150 Africans were then flung into the sea to their deaths on the orders of the Captain who believed that if they died on board by “natural causes,” the owners would have to bear the loss, whereas if they died by drowning, the loss would be covered by the owners’ insurance policy as attributable to “the perils of the sea.”

Back home in England, a famous case resulted: Gregson v. Gilbert. It was not a murder trial, since the Africans who had been killed were regarded as chattels not as human beings, but rather a legal dispute that turned on the finer points of insurance law. The insurers refused to pay the owners’ claim, and the owners challenged that refusal in court. The owners won in the initial trial, but the jury’s decision was overturned on appeal by the Court of King’s Bench.

Philip describes that King’s Bench decision, the only part of the litigation to make its way into the law reports, as “the tombstone, the one public marker of the murder of those Africans on board the Zong,” and she opts to limit herself to that text, using it as “a word store” for the composition of her book-length sequence of poems. She literally deconstructs the decision, pulling apart the words with which it is composed, then rearranging them to construct her own text. Through the alchemy of poetry, she also thereby reconstructs the African passengers, so present aboard the ship, yet peculiarly absent from the legal decision. “In Zong!,” Philip writes, “the African, transformed into a thing by the law, is re-transformed, miraculously, back into human.”

These are poems in which the placement of the words on the page is as important as the meaning that those words convey. In the early poems, the words are spread thinly across the page, the spaces making visible the absence of African bodies and voices. But as the sequence continues, the poems become denser and denser, the words tumbling over one another, sometimes scoring one another out. The effect is disorienting, disturbing, and, ultimately, extremely powerful.

I recommend reading the book at least twice, the first time approaching the poems fresh, taking them on their own terms. Then again after having read the material appended at the end (Philip’s essay on the writing of the book, from which I’ve quoted above, and a copy of the Gregson v. Gilbert decision) to more fully appreciate how Philip has illuminated injustice by making poetry out of law.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 21-27, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Last month, Stephen Hillard and Cruel Rune LLC, the author and publisher of Mirkwood, a novel featuring J.R.R. Tolkien as a character, received a letter from the Tolkien estate threatening immediate legal action for violations of intellectual property unless all copies of the book are destroyed. But it is Hillard and Cruel Rune who are now taking preemptive legal action, seeking a declaration from a Texas court that the book, which they describe as “both a work of fiction and a critical analysis of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” is protected by the fair use doctrine and the First Amendment. Given the current popularity of works of fiction in which historical figures appear as characters (termed “faction” by one recent commentator), the implications of the case could be far-reaching. (THR, Esq., Courthouse News, Observer)

Fawzia Afzal-Khan has self-published her fictionalized memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style. It was published by Syracuse University Press last spring, but quickly spiked after the press received threats of legal action from a woman in Pakistan who alleges that one of the characters in the book is a defamatory portrait of her. The National Writers Union and others have criticized SUP for failing to champion the author and her right to freedom of expression, particularly in light of the protection now afforded by the U.S. SPEECH Act against the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. You can read SUP’s statement here, TWU’s statement here, and the author’s account of her experience here. (Inside Higher Ed, TDR, change.org)

The International Publishers Association is concerned about the fate of Shahla Lahiji, founder of Roshangaran, an Iranian press that publishes books on women’s issues, after she is said to have been named on a “blacklist, reportedly circulated by a chapter of Iran’s Basij militia at Khajeh Nasir University, contain[ing] names of Iranian publishers it thinks are displaying ‘evidence of soft overthrow and velvet revolution.’” (The Bookseller)

A UK teacher is waiting to hear from an employment tribunal whether she’s entitled to compensation for her 2009 dismissal. She was fired for gross misconduct over a short novel she wrote that was intended to get students in difficulty interested in reading by including them as characters. Though by all accounts the project succeeded in this aim, the controversy that led to her dismissal erupted when the book, replete with sexual references and swear words, was inadvertently made publicly available through an online self-publishing site. (Guardian)

On behalf of UK library users, a Birmingham-based human-rights law firm is mounting a court challenge to Somerset and Gloucestershire library closures on the basis that proposed cuts violate “the statutory obligation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service for everyone wanting to use it.’” (Guardian)

The family of animator Max Fleischer has been unsuccessful in a bid to claim exclusive ownership of his creation, comic character Betty Boop. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a lower court ruling denying the family’s copyright and trademark claims on the basis that they were unable to prove a valid transfer to them in the intervening decades of the rights that Fleischer sold to Paramount Pictures in the 1940s. Of the trademark claim, Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote: “If we ruled that Avela’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain.” (THR Esq., WSJ, Clannco)

Accusations of plagiarism flew around the music world this week, leveled against Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Britney Spears. Only the claim against Spears appears poised to spark a lawsuit, with the Bellamy Brothers complaining that her new single “Hold It Against Me” is “too close” to their 1979 hit “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”, and indicating that they “will without doubt take the appropriate legal action if [their] attorneys agree [they’ve] been ripped off.” (The Daily Beast, Jezebel, Starpulse)

Bunhill Fields cemetery in north London has attained the protected status of a Grade I designation on English Heritage’s register of parks and gardens of special historic interest. “The cemetery, founded in the 1660s as a burial ground for nonconformists, radicals and dissenters, holds the remains of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and the poet and artist William Blake, among thousands of others.” To see a slide show of photographs taken there by Graham Turner for the Guardian, click here. The photograph above and to the right is of the monument to Daniel Defoe. (Guardian)

John le Carré has donated his literary archive to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The archive includes multiple drafts of his novels, and many boxes of correspondence and personal photographs. Le Carré was a student at Oxford, as was his most famous character, fictional Cold War spy George Smiley. “Oxford was Smiley’s spiritual home, as it is mine. And while I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest,” said le Carré. The Bodleian plans to make the archive available to researchers online. (Telegraph, Independent)

Kate Taylor profiles Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, “a bestselling Swedish crime-writing duo with the most unlikely background: They met through a mutual interest in the rehabilitation of ex-cons.” The profile suggests that their books exemplify the best qualities of the current wave of Swedish crime fiction with which they are associated in that they simultaneously provide entertainment and social commentary. (Globe & Mail)

Vit Wagner highlights the best of Canadian crime fiction in an article primarily focused on author Ian Hamilton whose debut novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first installment in a Toronto-based mystery series featuring forensic accountant Ava Lee as sleuth, has just been released to rave reviews. (Toronto Star)

James Bartleman talks with Mark Medley about his first novel, As Long as the Rivers Flow, which centres on the residential school experience of the main character and its aftermath. “It’s not, Bartleman says, ‘an indictment of white society,’ but rather a novel showing how a wrong committed against one person can echo for generations.” He hopes “that this book would appeal to marginalized people everywhere.” (National Post)

Kate Sutherland

The Rights (& Wrongs) of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

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:

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 14-20, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Ablene Cooper has filed a lawsuit against author Kathryn Stockett over her best-selling novel The Help. Cooper, who has spent much of life working as a maid, including twelve years in the employ of Stockett’s brother, claims that one of the characters in the book, a maid named Aibileen Clark, “is an unauthorized appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.” The complaint details a number of similarities between the complainant and the character. Stockett’s publishers have indicated that they “don’t think there is any basis to the legal claims.” (NYT, Guardian)

The UK government has indicated that it may take control of libraries if local councils “are overzealous in closures,” out of concern that “some communities, particularly rural ones, may end up with no access to library services,” and worry over “the effects of the closures on children and the elderly.” (The Bookseller)

This week Borders, the second-largest bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Publishers are particularly hard hit by this latest blow to the book industry, as much of Borders’ debt is owed to them. (Los Angeles Times)

Just a day later, Australians were shocked by the “collapse of REDgroup, which owns the country’s largest bookshop chain Angus & Robertson, as well as Borders and the Whitcoulls chain of newsagencies in New Zealand.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this occurrence is not linked to the fate of the U.S. namesake of Borders Australia, though the bricks-and-mortar book trade on both sides of the Pacific has similarly “suffered from the rise of internet book sales and constrained consumer spending.” The affected chains have been “placed into voluntary administration.” (The Bookseller, Sydney Morning Herald)

David LaChapelle has launched a copyright infringement suit against Rihanna, alleging that the recently released music video for her song “S & M” borrows heavily from the imagery of his photographs. (NYT, Radar Online, Daily Mail)

In another case allegedly involving the use of real names in fiction, a lawyer for CBS was in court in California this week seeking the dismissal of a defamation and invasion of privacy suit brought against the network over an episode of television crime drama CSI. Scott and Melinda Tamkin claim that the episode, featuring a couple named Scott and Melinda Tucker, was penned by the scriptwriter “using their names and likeness at a time when he was angry with them because of a real estate deal gone awry.” A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal will issue its decision within 90 days. (Daily News)

Jayme Gordon, a Boston illustrator, has filed a copyright infringement suit against Dreamworks Animation. He alleges that characters in the hit movie Kung Fu Panda “are substantially similar to illustrations of characters he created and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2000 that are collectively titled Kung Fu Panda Power,” and that “DreamWorks rejected illustrations he sent to them in the 1990s.” (The Unruly of Law)

Irish artist Jim Fitzpatric is seeking to secure copyright to his iconic picture of Che Guevara. He explains that he hadn’t sought royalties earlier despite the proliferation of the image because he’s never cared about money. But now he wants to establish ownership “so he can hand over the rights to the Guevara family and the Cuban people” when the Che Guevara Cultural Centre opens in Havana in September. (The Irish Times)

In accordance with a ruling now made final by the U. S. Department of the Interior, the University of Pennsylvania must return sacred Tlingit artifacts, including “ceremonial hats and helmets” that “were purchased by a curator in the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from 1918 to 1925.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)

An exhibition at Rome’s State Archives reveals the truth behind the bad boy image of Renaissance painter Caravaggio. His crimes, detailed in carefully preserved “handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments” from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, ranged from assaulting a waiter with a plate of artichokes, to carrying a sword and a dagger without a permit, to killing a man over a gambling debt. (BBC)

For four decades, Camilo José Vergara has been photographing murals “in the poorest and most segregated communities in America.” Now he has assembled a slide show of some of these images to showcase the unique view of black history that they offer: “Official murals painted on schools, hospitals, government offices, and community organizations often portray a cheerful and optimistic view of racial progress, but murals on the walls of convenience and liquor stores, barbershops, fast food restaurants, churches, and abandoned buildings offer a lively alternative to this bland vision.” The photograph that heads this post was taken by Vergara in Compton, California in 2000. (Slate Magazine)

This week an exhibition of new work by artist James Hart Dyke opens in London. It includes 40 paintings, 25 drawings, and prints that document a year he spent shadowing MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was invited to do so by then head of the organization, John Scarlett, at the behest of MI6 officers who felt that the paintings he would produce would be a suitable way to document their history “as part of the run-up to the 2010 centenary year.” Praised by Scarlett as “highly evocative of life inside MI6,” Hart Dyke’s exhibition promises to be “an unexpected treat for that section of the British public who are endlessly fascinated by spies and their world.” (Guardian)

Thriller writer Charles Cumming is interviewed by Jake Kerridge about his new novel, The Trinity Six, “a yarn about an academic’s attempts to uncover the identity of a previously unsuspected sixth member of the Cambridge spy ring.” (Telegraph)

Thirteen lost short stories by Daphne Du Maurier, tracked down by Ann Willmore, a Cornish bookseller and longtime Du Maurier fan, are to be published by Virago Press in May. Says Willmore of the stories: “They have a sting in the tale, and are quite sinister. They are different from her novels.” My curiosity is thoroughly piqued. (The Independent)

According to Charles McGrath, Wesley Stace’s Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer is at once a murder mystery and a novel about classical music that features both “a convincing fictional composer” and “an entertaining fictional critic.” (NYT)

Brett Alexander Savory pronounces Keith Hollihan’s debut novel, The Four Stages of Cruelty, “powerful” and “mesmerizing.” Set in a maximum security prison, with a female corrections officer as the main character, Savoy tells us, it offers “startling moments of insight into what separates people from monsters⎯not much at all.” (Globe and Mail)

Hallie Ephron praises Kate Taylor’s historical novel A Man in Uniform for offering a fresh take on the Dreyfus affair. In it, lawyer François Dubon finds his orderly life in 1897 Paris turned upside down when he is persuaded to assist Captain Dreyfus after he has been convicted of spying for Germany. Along the way, Dubon “rediscovers the passion for justice that led him to practice law in the first place.” Ephron concludes: “It rewards the patient reader with a rich sense of time and place while offering a fascinating look at a historically based what-if.” (Boston Globe)

In Louise Dean’s “darkly comic” and “bracingly acerbic” novel The Old Romantic, Nick Goodyew, an English divorce lawyer, through the efforts of his put-upon younger brother, reunites with his parents from whom he is estranged, and who are estranged from each other. Sylvia Brownrigg writes of the novel: “Although class markers are a recurrent theme, The Old Romantic is essentially a highly entertaining, vivid evocation of love and marriage in its various forms.” (NYT)

In an omnibus review of new books about print magazines, Steven Heller finds much to like in a pair of books about the publications that provoked and emerged in the wake of the 1954 institution of the Comics Code in the United States. Heller says of The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read!: “In addition to offering a generous helping of controversial comics … Trombetta’s book provides insightful history.” And he sums up The Weird World Of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds! as “a curiously wonderful, weird and eerie tale of magazine history.” (NYT)