August 8, 2004 · Tim Wu
As Mark Frauenfelder and others have documented, the Guthrie family and probably Woody himself think the JibJab parody just fine. In the words of Grandaughter Cathy Guthrie (pictured here), “this parody was made for you and me.”
But here’s the thing: much of the JibJab Brouhaha was actually caused by a lack of author’s rights….
I’m not speaking heresay: the point is that who controls the rights can matter as much, if not more, than what the rights are. Here, its publisher “The Richmond Organization” (TRO) and not the family, who controls the rights to “This Land.” And Richmond’s reaction was the opposite of Cathy’s: “The damage to the song is huge,” said Kathryn Ostien, director of copyright licensing, because “this puts a completely different spin on the song.” (Why “different spin” = “huge damage” I’m not sure).
Yes, authors and creators can suffer fits of pique that can hurt the markets for secondary works. But their reasons for asserting copyright can be the subject of reasonable disagreement (example, colorized films). All that’s a peppercorn compared to the historic abuses of copyrights controlled by publishers and disseminators.
The present tension between consumers and copyright is predated by a centuries-old war between publishers and authors. Those who read this site ought think carefully about how often the public and authors are actually on the same side.