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dylanhearsawho redux

The site we mentioned a few weeks ago is getting lots of attention this week, with a fresh article on Salon confirming that legal threats took the site (or at least the music) off line.

With luck, archived versions will continue to be posted at other web sites, and the music will survive virus-like for decades to come. But for now, your best bet is to scour file sharing networks, where the tracks will certainly become a cult classic.

While reading the Salon piece, I started thinking that if it’s parody, it should be clear because of the 2 Live Crew scandal some years back where their parody of “Oh, Pretty Woman” got taken to the Supreme Court as a free speech issue. The band Negativland ran with that court case ruling, covering it in their book Fair Use: The Letter U and the Numeral 2 , which became a de facto primer on copyright and digital culture.

The thrust of the book was that Negativland could have won their case if they could have afforded to take it to court, but that their label, SST, backed away. The book also points out The Supremes conclusion that not only is music parody protected as free speech, but that there was no legal grounding at the time requiring music companies to license sampled work. Nevertheless, business practices had evolved based on paying for sample usage, even if that usage would otherwise have been protected as fair use.

In a perverse twist, what became chapter one of the book was orignally published as a magazine, which pissed off SST enough that they sued Negativland.

Page two of the Salon piece explores the legal angles in more depth, and makes the point that it’s hard to think of Dylan Hears a Who as parody when it lifts the Seuss “lyrics” whole-cloth. Humorous vocal delivery alone does not a parody make. A Dylan parody, sure, but a Dr. Seuss parody? Not buying it. In the end, Dylan Hears a Who is just a set of brilliantly executed cover tracks, published without permission.

But wait — what’s this?

How is that Jesse Jackson can read Green Eggs and Ham on Saturday Night Live and get away with it, while this unheard-of musician with a little traction in the blogosphere cannot? Why is Jackson (or NBC) able to lift Seuss’ words in toto and have it remain on YouTube after all this time, while the little guy can’t get his “parody” in edge-wise? Did SNL obtain permission from the Seuss estate? Maybe. But I doubt it.

And where do we even begin with this cover of the theme lyrics to Gilligan’s Island, sung to the tune of Stairway to Heaven?

Truth be known, I’m not much of a Dylan fan, but a friend does some killer karaoke covers of Dylan as channeled by Elmer Fudd. I’ll try and track down some samples of that, and we’ll see how long they stay online.

From → Cut-Out Bin

One Comment
  1. The band Negativland ran with that court case ruling, covering it in their book The Letter U and the Numeral 2

    Mark Hosler of Negativland came to Boston a few years ago and gave a two hour multimedia lecture on Negativland’s copyright history… He’d talk about an incident, from their first media pranks, through the U2 debacle, to modern time, and he’d play relevant video or audio to the story.. It was a really great lecture, and if he comes to your town I highly recommend attending…

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