Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity

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Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity By Kembrew McLeod.Doubkday. $24.95.

We're living in an age of intellectual-property rights run amok. Royalty collectors threaten to sue Girl Scout troops for dancing the Macarena. Textbook publishers nix excerpts of Martin Luther Kingjr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech because they can't afford to buy the rights from his heirs. Donald Trump trademarks not just the phrase "You're fired!" but also his accompanying hand gesture, commonly known as pointing.

The problem here is greed, asserts Kembrew McLeod in this smart, amusing examination of the increasingly grubby clash between private property and free speech. McLeod, a professor, music critic, and prankster, has no objection to inventors and artists protecting their creations. Rather, he's against the impulse to stake a claim on everything we read, sing, and hear. Laws originally intended to prevent plagiarism and theft are now being wielded "like a weapon" by corporations that think they can own things like hand gestures, dance moves, or musical notes. Such claims, he argues, "mock the idea of democracy, and they step on creativity."

The music industry's iron-fisted crackdown on sampling particularly irks McLeod, who sees the practice as the logical next step in the age-old musical tradition of borrowing. …