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Copyright law is a beautiful thing. Its purpose is to encourage the creation of artistic works for the general public by giving artists exclusive ownership of their work for the term of their life plus 70 years. This incentive allows artists and their estates to recoup royalties for that amount of time. While the intention was to benefit the public, many "artists" lose sight of this fact and only see dollar signs ahead of them. Yet without this inability for individuals to stay humble, we would not have the following copyright cases to laugh at.

  • In 2002, Wylie Gustafson filed a $5 million lawsuit against Yahoo. His reason for suing: he's the famous voice behind the Yahoo yodel. According to Gustafson, whose yodel was recorded and paid $590 for in 1996, his voice was only to be used for Yahoo's first TV ad and not the thousands of ads that followed it. Suing for copyright in this instance would seem a losing battle since copyrighted "works made for hire" are owned by the employer, not the artist. But Gustafson and Yahoo settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. It must have been enough because the yodeling fool said, "My horses will be fed good hay this winter."
  • In 2010, Viacom, owner of such networks as MTV, BET, and Paramount Pictures, secretly uploaded "roughed up" clips of its own shows to YouTube, then filed a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube and its owner, Google. Did they think no one would find out?
  • Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol attempted to trademark their names this year to avoid unfair use of their celebrity. They were BOTH initially denied. Not because celebrities, or even politicians, are banned from trademarking their fame, but because they both didn't sign their applications.
  • Ever wonder why restaurants never just sing "Happy Birthday to You" to celebrating customers? It's because if they did, they could face fines up to $30,000. That's right, any commercial production, be it a movie, TV show, restaurant, etc. cannot legally sing the traditional birthday song without paying royalties to Warner Music Group, owner of the song's copyright. But don't worry if you sing it at home. We can assume you're not making money off your loved one's birthday.
  • The music industry has been filing copyright suits against pirating sites for over ten years now. Its most recent suit takes the cake. Several companies have banded together to sue the file-sharing service Limewire for damages they estimate to be between $400 billion and $75 trillion. Ahem…the high end is more than the world's GDP! The judge, of course, called their request "absurd."

I know that piracy is wrong and infringing copyright is illegal. But let's not forget that copyright law was established to benefit the public, not the artist. Seriously, how much actual financial harm was brought to Metallica before they filed suit against Napster? Guitarist Kirk Hammett's $12.5 million home tells me: not much.

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

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