Sonny Bono Is Dead

Music label leads protest of eternal copyright

| November 6, 2003

Illegal Art, a digital and sampled music label, is asking artists to submit new works liberally sampling from music that would be part of the public domain by 2004 if the 1998 Sonny Bono Act -- extending copyrights for a 20-year period -- had not been passed.

Corporations, especially the Walt Disney Company, have enormous vested interest in extending copyrights on icons such as Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse, just as other companies want to continue holding monopolies on well-known and much-loved books and music. In a particularly focused attack against corporate interests, Illegal Art specifically call for 'appropriations of the Mickey Mouse character' as well as new works made by sampling Sonny Bono's output during his pop star years, saying, Hey, I've got you babe.

The Sonny Bono Act, upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, retroactively extended copyrights to the life of the author plus 70 years for individual works and a flat 95 years in cases of corporate authorship and works published before 1978. Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor who argued against the Sonny Bono Act at the Supreme Court, told Wired magazine's Steven Levy that the law makes it so 'no one can do to Disney as Disney did to the Brothers Grimm.' Lessig argued that the goal of the constitution, to 'promote the progress of science and useful arts' by giving individuals the fruits of their labors, is undermined by corporate desire for profits.

But, as the Illegal Art web site argues, 'Copyright law continues to expand and defeat its original purpose of promoting advances in the arts and sciences.' Thus, Illegal Art seeks to revitalize the public domain through constructive civil disobedience.
-- Joel Stonington

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