Sonny Bono Is Dead

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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Sonny Bono is
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