A Book Is Not a Copyright

Owning a book is not the same as owning the copyright to the book.

Obvious, right? You probably own lots of books and you’ve never thought you owned the copyright to those books.

Still, people conflate “book” with “copyright” all the time.

On March 20, 2022, The New York Times continued its reporting[1] on the alleged theft of Ashley Biden’s diary by Robert Kurlander and Aimee Harris. Harris and Kurlander purportedly tried to sell the book to the ironically named, Project Veritas.

The Times reported that the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation of how Ms. Harris came to be in possession of the diary and the role played by Project Veritas and then wrote that:

“Project Veritas finalized a deal with Mr. Kurlander and Ms. Harris to buy the rights to publish the diary for $40,000, wired them the money and signaled that the group planned to soon publish it, according [sic] a person with knowledge of the case.”

What?

If Kurlander and Harris somehow came by the diary without breaking any state or federal laws, they would have the right to sell the physical object to whomever they please but they still don’t have the right to publish the diary and, it should go without saying, they can’t sell or license rights they don’t have.

Ms. Biden wrote the diary. She owns the copyright. Publication without her permission is copyright infringement.


[1] Ashley Biden’s Diary Was Shown at Trump Fund-Raiser. Weeks Later, Project Veritas Called Her. March 20, 2022 The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/20/us/politics/project-veritas-ashley-biden-diary.html?referringSource=articleShare

Musical Copyright

Singer/songwriters Ed Sheeran and Sami (Switch) Chokri are in court because of similarities between their songs.

How do we tell if one song is similar enough to another song to be considered copyright infringement?

  • Do we let the judge or jury listen to the songs and decide whether they think they’re similar?
  • Do we bring in music theorists to analyze the similarities of the songs?
  • What if there are only a few measures that are same and everything else is different? Can that still be infringement?
  • Does it matter if the accompanying lyric is also similar?

The dispute between Switch and Sheeran is largely based on a measure and a half with the same three pairs of notes rising a half-step each time. The measures are repeated throughout both songs.

Listen at 1:10 of this recording of Sheeran’s The Shape of You. The accompanying lyric is “Oh, I.”

Listen to Chokri’s Oh Why at 0:52 of this video. The accompanying lyric is “Oh, why.”

If you’re a prolific songwriter, what are the chances you’ll go through your entire career without using a riff that’s similar to a riff in a different song? Does it matter if the songwriter was conscious of the similarity?

If you find this as fascinating as I do, you should check out the Music Copyright Infringement Resource sponsored by George Washington University Law School and Columbia Law School. It has links to hear the songs from major copyright lawsuits together with analyses of the rulings.