Copyright, fair use and the limits of political speech

Over at Blue Mass. Group, there’s an interesting debate taking place over copyright and fair use in reaction to a new ad put together by the Massachusetts Republican Party. The ad is nothing special — it shows President Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick amid various bad-news headlines about the weak economy. What’s notable is the soundtrack: a 57-second excerpt from “You’ve Got a Friend,” written by Carole King (potential plaintiff #1) and performed by James Taylor (potential plaintiff #2).

BMG co-editor David Kravitz has done yeoman work in showing that use of the song probably adds up to copyright infringement. Under the fair-use doctrine, you can use someone’s copyrighted material without permission for certain purposes, including parody. But according to a case Kravitz found, the parody must be directed at the copyright-holder in order for it to pass muster, not at some third party or parties.

Kravitz is probably right, but I still think there’s an argument to be made (I make it here) that the ad should be considered fair use: it’s political speech, which traditionally receives the highest level of First Amendment protection; it’s not taking a penny out of either King’s or Taylor’s pockets, the most important element in the four-part fair-use balancing test; and if media corporations like Disney hadn’t lobbied Congress to extend the copyright period from the traditional 28 years (originally 14) to the absurdly long terms that prevail today, then the ad wouldn’t even be an issue.

What I find interesting in the comment thread is the degree to which even progressives have internalized talking points put forth by the media conglomerates in arguing that the Republicans are in the wrong. Frankly, there’s someone wrong with a copyright regime if it’s illegal to grab barely a fifth of a 39-year-old song in order to make a political point.

But as we know, even as technology has made it ever easier to engage in copyright, the copyright protections that media corporations demand have grown ever more draconian.

Reminder: Bloggers unite for Monti Scholars

The radio talk show “Pundit Review,” on WRKO (AM 680), will devote the 8 p.m. hour tonight to raise money for a scholarship fund in honor of SFC Jared C. Monti, killed while trying to save his comrades in Afghanistan. You can donate now by clicking here, or on the small graphic in the upper-right-hand corner of this blog. Here’s my earlier item explaining what it’s all about.

Monday update: Kevin Whalen, the host of “Pundit Review,” reports that the effort raised nearly $3,000. You can still give.

Bloggers unite for Monti Scholars

Monti_bigThe conservative blog Pundit Review and the liberal blog Blue Mass Group are sponsoring a fundraiser for the SFC Jared C. Monti Memorial Scholarship Fund. They’re asking other bloggers to add a link. It’s a worthwhile cause, and I’m happy to do so.

The small box in the upper-right corner of the page will remain live through Sunday. You can make a donation by clicking on it or on the large graphic accompanying this item. (Or here.) There’s an on-air component as well, with Kevin Whalen of the “Pundit Review” radio program raising money this Sunday on WRKO (AM 680) from 8 to 9 p.m.

Pundit Review seems to be down at the moment, but BMG explains it all. SFC Monti, of Raynham, was killed on June 21, 2006, in Afghanistan while trying to save the life of a comrade, showing “immeasurable courage and uncommon valor.” President Obama will present the Medal of Honor to his parents next month.

You might also want to peruse this series of clips on SFC Monti’s life and heroism.

Update: Pundit Review is back up. Here is its take on the fundraiser.

Pundits on Patrick: Not a pretty picture

Gov. Deval Patrick’s politically clueless performance of recent days has brought out some sharp commentary from local pundits. A quick round-up — not meant to be comprehensive, just stuff that caught my eye:

  • Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe: “The Massachusetts governor is presiding over a local version of the larger, national disaster that is chipping away at confidence in government and the economy. But Patrick’s instincts for the symbols that enrage taxpayers are poor, and so, apparently, are the instincts of those who report to him.” Comment: Vennochi pretty much nails it. But it’s not just Patrick’s inept handling of political symbolism — it’s the lack of substance, too.
  • Jon Keller, WBZ: “It’s been a dismaying, demoralizing turn of events, coming at the worst possible time for the only thing that really matters, the ability of our state to deal with our crises in a way that protects and provides opportunity to the working classes. Things are bad out here, and no one wants to hear Deval Patrick whining about what a drag his chosen profession has turned out to be.” Comment: Keller’s pretty rough on everyone. Nevertheless, there’s a difference in tone here that suggests Keller thinks the governor has reached the point of no return.
  • The Outraged Liberal: “Patrick came to this job from the world of business, where executives got what they wanted by the sheer force of their will and personality. Some learn that politics is not the same environment and that accommodation is required…. But the biggest loser will be Patrick, who tried to strong arm the process and failed. In spectacular fashion.” Comment: Outside of Blue Mass. Group, Patrick has had no better friend in the local blogosphere than Mr. O.L. Very ominous.
  • Jay Fitzgerald, Hub Blog and Boston Herald: “Gov. Patrick’s ‘trivial’ comment is perhaps the single most stupid political remark I’ve heard muttered by a state or national pol in the face of genuine public outrage. It will stick with him for the rest of his years in the corner office.” Comment: I think Jay’s right.
  • David Kravitz, Blue Mass. Group: “It’s more than passing strange for this particular crowd to be so clueless about why stuff like this matters. No, the money at issue in the AIG bonuses, or Carol Aloisi’s job, or Marian Walsh’s special election, will not make or break the state or the country. But the damage these kinds of things do is, while less tangible, no less real.” Comment: If Patrick is losing one of the BMG co-editors, then he’s pretty much down to family and childhood friends.
  • Paul Flannery, Boston Daily: “Patrick has never bothered to take care of the little things — the car, the drapes, the chopper, the book deal while the casino bill went down in flames — and now the big things are slipping out of his grasp.” Comment: Call it the “broken windows” theory of politics.

We are now past the half-way point of Patrick’s four-year term. It’s pretty sobering — and discouraging — to realize that, without a major turnaround, we’re looking at yet another disappointment in the governor’s office.

“The media” cheer Obama (II)

More-direct evidence of how silly The Hill’s item was concerning people with press passes cheering for Obama: Charley Blandy of Blue Mass Group saw my post and followed up, noting that BMG bloggers were among those wearing green press passes and cheering.

Blandy writes: “In other words, the reporter at the Hill may well have seen partisan bloggers like us, who had green press credentials, whooping and cheering for Obama. That’s a problem because … ?”

Middleborough voter explains all

Here’s a pretty powerful anecdote suggesting that people in Middleborough knew exactly what they were doing when they voted in favor of the casino agreement but against the casino itself. From the Associated Press:

A sense of resignation that a casino was a done deal drove the decisions of several voters interviewed as they walked into the meeting.

Michelle Holden, 45, planned to reluctantly vote for a casino deal she called inevitable. Regardless of Saturday’s vote, the tribe owns the necessary land and can build so long as it secures federal and state approval, she said.

If nothing else, Holden hoped the extra revenue could help the town restore services it previously cut, like freshman sports for her 16-year-old son.

“I don’t really want the casinos here, but it’s coming,” she said. “We might as well benefit through the town.”

Over at Blue Mass Group, you’ll see arguments that the “no” vote on the casino itself doesn’t mean much because people were leaving at that point, because the vote was taken by a show of hands, because the town moderator’s visual acuity was wanting, because the vote was non-binding, etc., etc. Even Sabutai makes those points. I’m not saying he’s wrong — I’m saying it’s irrelevant. The vote was the vote, and it is perfectly reflected Holden’s sentiments.

It’s sad that people like Holden have come to believe that the fight is lost already, and that the best they can do is negotiate the most favorable terms of surrender. You can always fight. You can go to court. You can lay down in front of the bulldozers.

But the inevitability of the casino is the prime message being pushed by the cynical casino proponents. Don’t believe it.

Score three for Patrick

Media Nation has been rough on Gov. Deval Patrick — though no rougher than he deserves. Still, I find myself agreeing with Charley Blandy of Blue Mass Group, who says that one positive aspect of Patrick’s victory is that we no longer have a governor standing in the way of progress, such as stem-cell research and Cape Wind.

Today, a third example: Andrea Estes and Lisa Wangsness report in the Boston Globe that Patrick has ordered the state Department of Public Health to record the marriages of 26 out-of-state gay and lesbian couples, reversing an action taken by his Republican predecessor, Mitt Romney. Good for Patrick.

And don’t miss today’s “Doonesbury,” which neatly skewers Romney for his flip-flop on gay and lesbian rights.

What controversy?

Check out what Blue Mass Groupie Kate says after several days of well-documented privacy problems at DevalPatrick.com (fixed, fortunately) and concerns expressed even by the Outraged Liberal, a Patrick admirer, about soliciting campaign contributions on a site that’s supposed to be a high-minded exercise in online governance:

For those involved in Deval Patrick’s innovative, grassroots-driven, decentralized, and empowering campaign, any “controversy” about the governor’s relaunched website is much ado about nothing. It appears that those who attack this website are threatened by ordinary citizens being active and engaged.

And what is the reaction of BMG co-editor David Kravitz? “Well said, Kate!”

Priceless.

Patrick and the press

I’ve been holding my fire on Gov. Deval Patrick’s personal spending spree (with our money) because I’m not sure exactly what to think. I thought the story about his helicopter rides to official events was genuinely stupid, but my ears perked up over his state-funded Cadillac. Since then, we’ve learned that he spent a fortune redecorating his office, and — most egregious, IMHO — has approved a $72,000-a-year chief of staff for his wife, a downtown lawyer.

And it’s not as though all this is obscuring the great news Patrick is making on other fronts. Indeed, as this was unfolding last week, he was quietly floating two ideas to raise taxes. This from a guy who said during his gubernatorial campaign that he had “no plans” for a tax increase. Well, not then, anyway.

I’m still not sure how big a deal any of this is. Faux-populist stories like these are a dime a dozen, and if Patrick’s tastes are more expensive than those of his predecessors, such is life. But his news conference yesterday is another matter. Patrick demonstrated such a just-doesn’t-get-it streak — and not for the first time — that it makes you wonder whether he has the basic political instincts needed to be an effective governor.

Essentially, Patrick apologized, even going so far to say he’d “screwed up”; announced that he would return some of the money; and then undid all the good he might have done by blaming it on the media. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.) By all means, take a look at Jon Keller’s report on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). I also recommend Adrian Walker’s column in today’s Globe, which includes this:

I’m on record as not giving a hoot what the governor gets driven around in. I still think people place too much emphasis on symbols over substance. At the end of the day, a leased Cadillac is a ridiculous barometer to measure Patrick by.

What is troubling, though, is Patrick’s inability to think any problem of his has anything to do with him. If everyone could just be as high-minded, as substantive as he is, everything would be fine.

Over at Patrick headquarters, a.k.a. Blue Mass Group, Charley Blandy wags his finger at the media:

All of the local media geniuses who have smelled blood on the caddy stuff need to get a clue, and start focusing on things that matter. This is page B3 stuff at best. Media outlets aren’t struggling just because of their business model; they’re struggling because they’ve abdicated their vitality and relevance, and become just as focused on gossipy crap like the DeVille, or whether Scott Brown has a potty-mouth, or whatever. [Blandy’s emphasis.]

Blandy also denounces “the obvious racial subtext to all of this: Deval as Pimp.” Well, you know what? I’m not going to say there’s no racial subtext. There always is when you’re talking about an African-American in a position of power. But let’s not get carried away here.

Patrick needs to understand that, yes, he ran a mistake-free campaign for governor, but he also had plenty of luck, beating two extremely weak candidates in the Democratic primary and running virtually unopposed in the general election. For all his smarts and knowledge, he’s still got a lot to learn about politics.

Are the media pushing all this too hard? Probably. Yesterday, though, Patrick had a chance to put this string of stories behind him. He only partly succeeded — at best.

Elsewhere: The Massachusetts Liberal is more impressed with Patrick’s apology than I am. Jay Fitzgerald: “Individually, the various stories don’t push my outrage buttons. Collectively, well, they add up.” And the Herald’s Inside Track has a hilarious account of a dust-up between two reporters for WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Andy Hiller and Sean Hennessey, as they were jockeying for position at Patrick’s news conference.

More: Emily Rooney comes to Patrick’s defense.

It depends on what “devout” means

David Kravitz of Blue Mass Group thinks the media may be wrong in describing Mitt Romney as a “devout” Mormon. In a commentary on Jacob Weisberg’s recent Mormon-bashing piece in Slate, Kravitz writes:

Although Romney is routinely described by others as a “devout Mormon,” I could not find (via a couple of Google searches) an instance where he has described himself that way. So, is that description of him truth, or truthiness? Like everything else about what Mitt Romney actually believes, it’s hard to tell.

Oh, David. Try a Google search for “Mitt Romney” and “bishop.” Here are a few examples for you:

  • The Boston Phoenix: “A former venture capitalist and Mormon bishop, Romney unsuccessfully challenged Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate campaign and then rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah — the Vatican of Mormonism — from certain disaster before being elected governor here.”
  • Associated Press: “Romney was a bishop — the Mormon equivalent of a pastor — in the early 1980s and served as president of a collection of Boston area churches in the late 80s and early 90s.”
  • Reuters:A devout Mormon and former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney — the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney — has several advantages, political analysts say.

Question: Is it possible be a non-devout bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answer: It’s hard to imagine.

I’m not saying I agree with Weisberg that Romney’s religion should disqualify him from the presidency. But Kravitz shouldn’t kid himself about Romney’s beliefs, any more than he should have kidded himself about the trustworthiness of the Massachusetts Legislature in the recent same-sex-marriage debate.