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Henry Diltz/CORBIS
Henry Diltz/CORBIS

The Time John Fogerty Was Sued for Ripping Off John Fogerty

Henry Diltz/CORBIS
Henry Diltz/CORBIS

In 1993, former Creedence Clearwater Revival singer John Fogerty found himself at the center of a case being argued before the United States Supreme Court. The country’s highest court wasn’t debating whether Bayou Country or Green River was the superior CCR album. Instead, Fogerty was in the middle of an important, somewhat obscure corner of copyright law.

The seeds for Fogerty’s day in court traced back 23 years to 1970. That April, CCR released the Fogerty-penned “Run Through the Jungle” as a single that would eventually be certified gold by the RIAA. “Run Through the Jungle” is a solid tune, but it didn’t really grab headlines until 1985 when Fogerty released a solo track called “The Old Man Down the Road.”

“The Old Man Down the Road” is a pretty nice song, too; it even cracked the top 10 on the singles charts. One person wasn’t a fan, though. Saul Zaentz, who owned CCR’s old label Fantasy Records, also owned the copyright to “Run Through the Jungle.” Zaentz felt that “The Old Man Down the Road” was simply “Run Through the Jungle” with different words. In other words, John Fogerty had plagiarized a John Fogerty song to which he didn’t own the copyright.

Zaentz felt he had a case, so he sued Forgerty in federal court for copyright infringement.

(It’s worth noting that Zaentz and Fogerty weren’t on the best of terms in the first place. The same 1985 album that featured “The Old Man Down the Road,” Centerfield, also included the tracks “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz.” Critics and fans saw these songs as pointed attacks on Zaentz, and the label head initiated a separate $144 million defamation lawsuit that claimed Fogerty portrayed him as “a thief, robber, adulterer, and murderer.” The two sides settled that suit out of court.)

Defamation aside, was there any merit to the copyright claims? Have a listen and decide for yourself:

"Run Through the Jungle"

“The Old Man Down the Road”

The case ended up before a jury in Federal District Court in San Francisco in late 1988. The two-week trial featured Fogerty taking the witness stand with guitar in hand to explain that yes, the two songs may have sounded somewhat similar, but they were both variations on his signature “swamp rock” style. Simply put, of course two John Fogerty songs sounded the same.

This logic seemed pretty sound to the jury. It only took two hours of deliberation for the jury to determine that the two songs didn’t meet the legal standard of being “substantially similar” that would have constituted copyright infringement. The Fogerty camp let out a collective “huzzah!”

Encore!

The real legal action was just warming up, though. Since Fogerty had successfully defended himself against Fantasy Records’ suit, he sought reimbursement for his attorney’s fees. No dice. If the plaintiff, Fantasy, had been successful in its suit against Fogerty, the label would have been able to seek its lawyer fees from the musician. Since Fogerty had been a prevailing defendant, though, the court ruled that he could only seek fees if he could show that Fantasy’s suit was frivolous or had been made in bad faith. Fantasy’s suit may not have panned out, but it didn’t fit those criteria.

This decision put Fogerty in a sticky spot. Sure, he had won the case, but he was on the hook for $1.09 million in fees for his attorneys and those of his current label, Warner Brothers. Fogerty and his team didn’t think this arrangement was very fair, so they appealed the decision. In 1993 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shot down that appeal, though, on the same grounds—the original suit had been neither frivolous nor brought in bad faith.

After that failed appeal, Fogerty v. Fantasy – which would be an awesome title for a Fogerty concept record about battling elves, by the way – ended up in front of the Supreme Court. Fogerty’s camp made the same argument: that it made no sense to have a dual standard for plaintiffs and defendants seeking reimbursement for lawyer fees under the Copyright Act of 1976.

In March 1994, the Supreme Court issued a 9-to-0 decision in favor of Fogerty. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that there was nothing in the Copyright Act of 1976 that implied that Congress wanted anything other than a level playing field when it came to awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. (Rehnquist also hinted at a bit of Creedence fandom, writing that CCR "has been recognized as one of the greatest American rock and roll groups of all time.")

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Animals
Switzerland Just Made It Illegal to Boil Live Lobsters
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No, lobsters don’t scream when you toss them into a pot of boiling water, but as far as the Swiss government is concerned, they can still feel pain. The path most lobsters take to the dinner plate is supposedly so inhumane that Switzerland has banned boiling lobsters alive unless they are stunned first, The Guardian reports.

The new law is based on assertions from animal rights advocates and some scientists that crustaceans like lobsters have complex nervous systems, making death by boiling incredibly painful. If chefs want to include lobster on their menus, they’re now required to knock them out before preparing them. Acceptable stunning methods under Swiss law include electric shock and the “mechanical destruction” of the lobster’s brain (i.e. stabbing it in the head).

The government has also outlawed the transportation of live lobsters on ice or in icy water. The animals should instead be kept in containers that are as close to their natural environment as possible until they’re ready for the pot.

Proponents of animal rights are happy with the decision, but others, including some scientists, are skeptical. The data still isn’t clear as to whether or not lobsters feel pain, at least in the way people think of it. Bob Bayer, head of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, told Mental Floss in 2014 that lobsters “sense their environment, but don’t have the intellectual hardware to process pain.”

If you live in a place where boiling lobsters is legal, but still have ethical concerns over eating them, try tossing your lobster in the freezer before giving it a hot water bath. Chilling it puts it to sleep and is less messy than butchering it while it’s still alive.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Pop Culture
Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain
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Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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