Monthly Archives: December 2015

Sara Ross

Rap Beef 2015: Copyright Edition

BIG graffiti by Tom Check

Graffiti by Ramon Alvarez featuring an image of The Notorious B.I.G. (Photograph by Tom Check)

2015 has seen a great deal of “beef” between rappers and other musicians spill over into the courts as recording artists have been going at it over copyright claims. Though many of these cases came to a close this December, some of the beefs stretch back decades. For example, on December 22nd a copyright case against the estate of the late Notorious B.I.G. was thrown out of court after Lee Hutson was unable to prove that B.I.G. illegally sampled his 1973 work on his 1992 album Ready to Die.

In Germany, rap producer Moses Pelham has been in a 12-year long fight against electronic dance music legends Kraftwerk that first reached the appeal stage in 2008 over a two second music sample. On December 13th, Kraftwerk finally won the long-haul battle when the Supreme Court of Germany ruled in Kraftwerk’s favour. The defendant is still pushing, claiming this final decision is unconstitutional; the likelihood of this claim succeeding is probably quite low, but the beef in this case seems far from over.

Rap mogul Jay-Z was sued by the heir of Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdy, who claimed that a 1999 track by the rapper sampled a 1957 composition of Hamdy’s without permission – even though Jay-Z’s label had already paid out $100,000 to the producers of the movie in which the song appeared. The argument is that the original song is so culturally significant, it never should have appeared on the hip hop artist’s “Big Pimpin” track at all. Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé then won a lawsuit on October 21st that had claimed her song “XO” was a copy of a back-up dancers’ track “XOXO”.

Some beef is more recent and far less historically relevant. As of December 23rd, 50 Cent is suing Rick Ross after Ross sued 50 earlier in the year. 50’s old G-Unit pal The Game is also being sued in a separate incident. Rick Ross sued again, this time taking EDM super-group LMFAO to court over lyrics and the group’s fashion line, and lost the case. Fashion and music were joined by film this year, as an artist claimed his 1978 song was ripped off by the NWA, though he apparently waited until the release of the film Straight Outta Compton and the use of the offending song in that film. He is also clearly going after the deepest pockets, with “hip hop’s first billionaire” Dr. Dre as the main target of the suit.

Many of the legal beefs will continue into 2016, shaping the future of music sampling laws and the precedents that will be used to settle such suits into the future.

Sara Ross

Mein Kampf to Become Legal in Germany on January 1st, 2016


Since the fall of the Nazis in Germany, Hitler’s tome Mein Kampf has been illegal in Germany. While the book was not banned, reprinting was discontinued as the State of Bavaria assumed the copyright and refused to publish it. That copyright runs out at midnight this December 31st, 2015, and the work will enter the German public domain in 2016.

There are current plans for an annotated version of the book by the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, Germany; though it is certain the reprinting will not stop there. It will be interesting to see if further attempts are made by the German government to control the text as we enter 2016, in order to temper the book’s potential effects on society. A 2014 agreement between state and federal justice ministers agreed to prevent such versions (even if heavily annotated) from reaching the German market after the copyright runs out by using laws against incitement.

The use of copyright in controlling Mein Kampf has also occurred in other European nations, France among them. In that country, the publisher Fayard has developed a similar project to begin a new French printing of the work with its own annotated copy as January’s public domain deadline approaches. While legal in Canada, the book is not generally available in physical form as Chapters-Indigo has an internal policy not to shelve or sell the book. Chapters-Indigo does sell, however, works by Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, and other 20th century genocidal dictators. Since Mein Kampf is easily available online, with copies on,, and others, the claim of a “de facto ban” because of the actions of Chapters-Indigo made by the Toronto Star in 2009 appears inflated.

Again though, if the ministers of justice in Germany follow through on their 2014 threat, this may all just be much ado about nothing.

Sara Ross

News Piece of Interest: Russia vs. Contemporary Culture


Photograph of the band Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin

Eva Hartog has written a piece in The Moscow Times on the state of Russia’s crackdown against contemporary culture that the government finds antithetical to its goals and traditions. In an excerpt from the piece, Hartog writes:

Despite the high-profile incidents, non-traditional art in Russia continues to exist and at times appears to operate free from constraint. Dmitry Ozerkov, curator of the 20/21 contemporary art project at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, told The Moscow Times he had not experienced any pressure from the public or authorities — even when the museum put on display provocative artworks on homosexuality and Russia’s role in Ukraine.

Kovalskaya, of the Meyerhold Center, said people were often surprised at her center’s sharply Kremlin-critical performances. But, she added, the threat of closure hung over all independent art institutions. “If they want to close down Meyerhold, a hundred [regulatory] violations will be found,” she said. Despite the crackdown, 2015 had been a good year for the Russian arts, Guelman said, “not thanks to the Culture Ministry, but in spite of it.”

“This year, the authorities’ pressure was enormous, but it did not kill us,” he said.

In the context of recent empathy between Western and Russian leaders on issues of foreign affairs and national defense, it is important to remember the plight of those Russian artists that are in the cross-hairs of the Putin regime. To read the article in full, you can visit the newspaper’s website here.

Sara Ross

Indigenous Education Blueprint Comes Into Effect

TRC logo

The University of Winnipeg is just one of several Manitoba post-secondary institutions to sign onto the Indigenous Education Blueprint, otherwise known as “the Manitoba Collaborative Indigenous Education Blueprint For Universities, Colleges and Public School Boards: Making Excellence in Indigenous Education a Priority”. As of December 18th, 2015, the university is officially a partner in the effort to introduce recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other schools that have signed onto the agreement include Brandon University, Université de Saint-Boniface, Canadian Mennonite University, University College of the North, Red River College, Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology, Assiniboine Community College, and the University of Manitoba.

According to a release from Brandon University, “The next steps will be for the partners to establish a steering committee that will prepare an implementation plan as they work toward the blueprint’s 10 objectives.” In addition to the universities and colleges, the Manitoba School Boards Association has also signed the agreement, committing all of the secondary schools in the province to the same goals. This is one of the first major institutional actions in Canada following the December 15th release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

You can read more about the Commission and its findings by visiting its website here.

Sara Ross

A Festivus for the Rest of Us


Image of Gay Pride Festivus Pole (Credit: David Charles)

Not to belabor the theme of Seinfeld this month, but the show’s iconic faux-holiday “Festivus” has made quite the news south of the border this December. Chaz Stevens, a LGBT activist, sent in a request to post a Festivist pole decorated in a rainbow flag in the rotunda of the Capitol Building of the State of Oklahoma. The mere request was met with outrage by Oklahoma lawmakers, who echoed concerns over the removal of Christian-themed iconography from the state building, in the context of allowing Festivus imagery onto the grounds. Stevens also made requests to several others states. In Arkansas the request was denied, with Arkansas’ Secretary of State citing trademark concerns among others in his rationale; in addition to the fact that Stevens is not a resident of the state. However, Oklahoma approved the request, as did the states of Florida and Illinois; in Illinois, the pole was set up beside the state capitol’s nativity scene on December 21st.

Sara Ross

New “Rave” License in Vancouver


DJ Sasha in Bucharest, Romania (Image by Barbu Cristian)

Two years ago the Vancouver City Council began a pilot program that has now come to a close, resulting in a vote by the city council to approve a new license for “late-night activities in industrial spaces.” In regular parlance, the license will make warehouse raves a legal activity in the city. According to The Georgia Straight,

The decision comes as a great victory for promoter Matt Troy. As executive director of the Vancouver Art & Leisure Society, Troy is a leading light for the policy. “Vancouver Art & Leisure started when a group of young people tried to create new experiences in unconventional locations,” he explains from his Vancouver home. “We couldn’t really understand why, say, a poetry reading at a bookstore was any different to dancing in industrial spaces.”

It is also a major victory for the EDM scene, alternatively known as the Electronica scene, house music scene, rave scene, or dance music scene, and so forth. After spending the first three decades of the music’s existence in Canada in the shadows, a series of events has led to the music’s rise out of the dark. It likely began in Montreal, with the city government openly supporting electronic music festivals like Black and Blue, but this license in Vancouver spreads the good will as far west as it can go.

EDM is big business, bigger than most other music scenes in any urban setting. The acknowledgement of the realities of the EDM scene in a city licensing schematic is certainly a positive sign for the industry’s health and acceptance into the mainstream in a way that jazz or rock & roll once were long ago.

Sara Ross

Obama to Appear on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

comedians in cars logo

On the upcoming season premiere episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld will be joined by none other than United States President Barack Obama for the drive and sip of a lifetime. The episode will go live on December 30, 2015. As a primer, Obama has shown his comedy chops several times in the past both on and offline, from his appearances on The Daily Show and Colbert Report, to his now legendary appearance on Zach Galifianakis‘s cult web series Between Two Ferns. Previous appearances have seen the US President on-message, clearly selling a policy or legislation during his screen time. However, as he is now nearing the end of his presidency, it will be interesting to see if he is pushing a new part of his platform, or if he just enjoys the ride.

You can view a preview of the upcoming season on the show’s Crackle channel here.

Sara Ross

Call for Papers: Copyright and the Circulation of Knowledge


The Université Sorbonne Nouvelle will be hosting a conference entitled “Copyright and the Circulation of Knowledge: Industry Practices and Public Interest in Great Britain from the 18th Century to the Present” between October 7th and October 8th, 2016. The call for papers requires a 200 word abstract and 100 word biography to be submitted by January 15th, 2016, and includes the following:

New combinations of technology, culture, and business practice are transforming relationships among authors, publishers, and audiences in many fields of knowledge, including journalism, science research, and academia … This conference seeks to bring together specialists of Great Britain from the eighteenth century to the present to explore the complex relationship between copyright and the circulation of knowledge. We welcome case studies that focus on a particular time period as well as papers that show how attitudes and practices have changed over time. Papers that bring past and present concerns into dialogue are especially welcome.

To read more about the conference or to apply, you can visit their website here.

Sara Ross

2015 Year End Lists

Scales of Justics with copyright symbols

(Image source: Wikimedia)

At the end of every year, magazines, newspapers, and blogs alike flock to a single theme: listing the most important events to happen in their subject matter over the year. For example, The Fashion Law has released its list of the 10 most important fashion law cases of 2015 , which includes labor suits, IP disputes, and corporate showdowns. The list is among the first to come out this month, and will no doubt be accompanied by many others before month’s end, but it’s worth a read to catch up on anything you might have missed in the world of fashion law. Within a few days, at least historically, Slaw will also release its own list of the top cases of 2015.

There have been many landmark cases in the world of law and culture. In October, a case between the US Author’s Guild and Google Books was ruled in Google’s favour, ensuring that its free volumes of information remain fair-use. The decision is somewhat surprising, considering it was only four years ago that the two were ready to settle on a pay-per-view model instead of providing a free site before the judge threw out the settlement, claiming it would have given Google a de facto monopoly in the literary industry. Many other culture law decisions have been outlined here at Law.Arts.Culture over the last few months as well.

It will be interesting to see what happens towards the end of the month, as commentators take to their web pages to rank the year according to their expertise.

Sara Ross

New Treatment for Foreign Artists Visiting Canada

CCA logo

According to the Canadian Dance Assembly a new Labour Market Impact Assessment exemption category is being developed for “the performing arts disciplines of dance, opera, orchestra and live theatre” in 2016. Previously all performing artists hired to perform in Canada with Canadian performing arts companies were required to enter the country through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. With the changes, where the recruiting company is a recipient of Canada Council grant money, such artists can now also enter under the International Mobility Program. The move is another example of how the Canada Council for the Arts is rapidly changing under its new administration, making it easier for artists to work in Canada and lowering administration costs across the board.