Tag Archives: moral rights

Roundup of News & Reviews, September 5-11, 2011

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)

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: