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Television The Courts

CBS, Others Sued For Copyright Infringement Over "Soft Kitty" In Big Bang Theory (arstechnica.com) 349

UnknowingFool writes: In the popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, Penny has sung "Soft Kitty" to the difficult Sheldon Cooper on numerous occasions as a lullaby and to comfort him. These scenes are such fan favorites that the song lyrics are sold on merchandise. The daughters of poet Edith Newlin are suing CBS, Warner Bros, and others claiming copyright infringement for her poem, "Warm Kitty".

The situation is not a simple copyright infringement case of Warner Brothers not obtaining any permission. The poem was created in the 1930s by Newlin, but she granted permission to Willis Music to be used as lyrics in their songbook Songs for the Nursery School. Warner Brothers obtained permission from Willis Music in 2007 for the song to be used in the show. Willis Music is also named as a defendant.

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CBS, Others Sued For Copyright Infringement Over "Soft Kitty" In Big Bang Theory

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  • Oh give me a break (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:05PM (#51250477)

    For fuck's sake, it's 2016 and a fucking child poem from 1930 is still copyright protected?

    Has the world gone fully retarded?

    • by portwojc ( 201398 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:13PM (#51250559) Homepage

      I believe the copyright for that last 95 years. So 2025 is when the copyright expires. We'll find out before that if that will enter the public domain since a certain mouse is set to expire in 2023.
       

      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:20PM (#51250653) Journal

        Statute may define copyrights to such lengths, but make no mistake, copyrights in mid industrialized countries are now effectively infinite.

        • make no mistake, copyrights in mid industrialized countries are now effectively infinite.

          How so?

          The 1998 extension was enacted soon after the European Union had standardized copyright at life plus 70, following the term then in place in Germany. The Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft justified the 1998 extension by being careful to distinguish harmonizing to the EU from what has since come to be called "perpetual copyright on the installment plan". But because the EU is still at life plus 70, Congress won't be able to use the EU again. To which other industrialized country's copyright term wou

          • They'll use the Supreme Court case you're mentioning which held that as long as there was an expiration of the copyright in the new statute that congress could extend it because it is still for a "limited time."
            • I would view copyright terms as being too long, but it wouldn't bother me quite so much if they just limited the copyright increases to newly created works. The real problem is that they always extend it retroactively to already existing works, and are keeping items out of the public domain that would have landed their long ago under their original copyright terms.

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
            The court ruling also indicated that a new longer extension wouldn't be unlawful because perpetual extensions are still "limited" even if that limit is 1,000,000,000,000 years (or the heat death of the universe, which ever comes first).
          • by dryeo ( 100693 )

            Mexico has a 100 year copyright. I'm also sure that America can bully other countries to follow suite, why else spend so much on military

      • by steveg ( 55825 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:20PM (#51250657)

        It's 95 years for corporate authors. Individual authors are life plus 70. If the author died in 2004, then the copyright will expire in 2074.

        Yes, it's too long, and it's silly.

        • U.S. copyright in individual works published before 1978 subsists for the same duration as that in works made for hire: 95 years.

        • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @04:23PM (#51251243)

          It's 95 years for corporate authors. Individual authors are life plus 70. If the author died in 2004, then the copyright will expire in 2074.

          No, it's really not. You can't apply the terms established by the October 1976 copyright act, with subsequent extensions, to works published before that date. You get to apply the terms established by the 1909 copyright act, with subsequent extensions. It's all horribly complex [cornell.edu], but...

          For a work registered or first published in the US between 1923 and 1963, and renewed, the term is indeed 95 years after the publication date.

          Lawyer ouuuuuuut...

          • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )
            Just to clarify, I shouldn't have used "that date." The 1976 Copyright Act took effect on 1/1/78.
      • by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @08:50PM (#51253017) Homepage

        > since a certain mouse is set to expire in 2023.

        Spoiler alert: It won't.

        • since a certain mouse is set to expire in 2023.
          Spoiler alert: It won't.

          What expires is the copyright on "Steamboat Willie."

          Eight minutes of silent era sight gags with a synchronized sound track and a thin narrative thread.

          You do not get the right to infringe on later incarnations of the mouse in any media. That would be a tad less than 90 year backlist of theatrical features and shorts, radio and television productions, Little Golden Books, comic strips, comic books, ViewMaster 3-D, stage shows and so on.

          Neither do you get the right to use the Mickey Mouse trademark or a

    • Yes, Copyright HAS gotten that retarded.

      The whole system needs to be scrapped and re-written from scratch

    • Yes but that's the state of copyright. If you tell these few people to get a clue and go away but you're still left with Disney with a lock on its own copyrights then nothing's been achieved except to kick the little guys.

      Similar to patent law, if all the big players use patents to go after everyone else then it's only fair and rationale for the tiny companies to do the same. You have to fix things starting at the top.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:13PM (#51250575)
    The editors removed my last paragraph but my opinion is that CBS is probably legally fine because they used the derivative work (the song) as the song. Merchandise that show the lyrics are another matter and they may have to license the lyrics from Newlin's family.
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:15PM (#51250591)

    Down Under (song) copied stuff from a 1932 song and that made it to a court case.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • That case was a travesty, as are most of these types of cases. Judges end up making musical decisions for which they're entirely unqualified and unsuited.

      cf. George Harrison and "My sweet Lord".

  • ...people would actually aspire to create something new rather than spend their lives trying to profit off the mental effort of their dead relatives.

    • ...people would actually aspire to create something new rather than spend their lives trying to profit off the mental effort of their dead relatives.

      Options: With respect to their dead relatives, they are:
      (a) less capable of mental effort.
      (b) less willing to exert mental effort.
      (c) both (a) and (b).

    • by tomxor ( 2379126 )

      ...people would actually aspire to create something new rather than spend their lives trying to profit off the mental effort of their dead relatives.

      Because all creative thought is entirely original and has no connection to the rest of the world... even disregarding satire, parody, sampling etc etc do you really think creativity takes place in some void in the mind and is spawned from nothing?

      Someone's new creations will be connected to any copyrighted material they have absorbed because creativity takes place in the neural network which is the human mind, and ultimately the output of a neural network is the product of it's cumulative input and some noi

    • Maybe I'm too cynical for slashdot. But I think these daughters, and their lawyer, are seeking to benefit not from a dead relative but from defendants with deep pockets who are likely to pay them to shut the fuck up and settle out of court.

      I'm no fan of current copyright law. But I really dislike the mud sucking bottom dwellers who file lawsuits seeking not to win but to walk away with a fat settlement. I hope that CBS and Warner recognize that if they handle the publicity right, the cost of dragging this

      • I would suggest that they temporarily replace their theme song (which I like) with "Soft Kitty". That would be one way of making lemonade.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      Wait, so who are we criticising here?

      The daughters, for suing over a poem written by their mom? I assume that's correct right?

      But the interesting thing is that the basic thrust of your argument is that the daughters should create something new instead of profiting of the mental effort of someone else? Right?

      If you expect the daughters to "create something new" then shouldn't Warner Bros also be held to that expectation?

      You are literally arguing that the daughters should create something new for themselves t

    • .......people would actually aspire to create something new rather than spend their lives trying to profit off the mental effort of their dead relatives.

      or perhaps, just perhaps...

      The world might be a more creative place if artists were encouraged to build a literary estate --- a body of work -----with a eye to the future needs of their heirs.

      [In 1878,] Grant moved to New York City to go into business with his son, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., and a young investor, Ferdinand Ward.

      Grant & Ward failed in May 1884, leaving Grant penniless.

      That fall, the former president was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Facing his mortality, Grant struck a publishing deal with his friend Mark Twain and began working on his memoirs, hoping they would provide for his family after his death.

      Grant suffered greatly in his final year. He was in constant pain from his illness and sometimes had the feeling he was choking. Despite his condition, he wrote at a furious pace, sometimes finishing 25 to 50 pages a day. In June 1885, as the cancer spread through his body, the family moved to Mount MacGregor, New York, to make Grant more comfortable. Propped up on chairs, and too weak to walk, Grant worked to finish the book. Friends, admirers and even a few former Confederate opponents made their way to Mount MacGregor to pay their respects. Grant finished the manuscript on July 18; he died five days later.

      Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant [wikipedia.org]

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:29PM (#51250737) Homepage Journal

    I'm all for copyright, but set it back to 14 years, and no extensions. As far as I can tell, the current system allows for just two things:
    1) People can take from the public domain but never contribute
    2) People can profit off their dead ancestors' work.
    Neither is particularly good for the public at large.

    • renewal fees are needed so we don't the DMCA issues with orphan works / Abandonware that in some cases are not even sold any more but can't be put out for people to use.

      • renewal fees are needed so we don't the DMCA issues with orphan works / Abandonware that in some cases are not even sold any more but can't be put out for people to use.

        Amen! And the renewal fees should increase over time since the work was copyrighted. If it's not profitable enough to pay for a renewal, it should be in the public domain. That will put a quick end to these "submarine" copyrights.

    • I'm all for copyright, but set it back to 14 years, and no extensions.

      If you do that, then you will be helping big movie companies who will feel free to make blockbuster movies from authors without paying them a single cent.

      As another point, you will also encourage serialized content, but I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

      • So? People should be writing books to sell books, not get lucky with a movie hit. Also people could broadcast or derivate the movie in 14 years, so what goes around comes around. We would probably get better books and movies this way.
      • by afxgrin ( 208686 )

        I'm still waiting for a Sherlock Holmes feature film set a few hundred years into a cyberpunk dystopian future. I think the closest we've seen of Sherlock Holmes in the future is in Star Trek TNG S02E03 "Elementary, Dear Data" and S06E12 "Ship in a Bottle". This horse can take many, many more beatings.

      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        "If you do that, then you will be helping big movie companies who will feel free to make blockbuster movies from authors without paying them a single cent."

        You mean like how Disney ripped off the Brothers Grimm (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White), Carlo Collodi (Pinocchio), and others?

        By not allowing works to fall into the public domain, culture is stolen from us.
      • by jandrese ( 485 )
        It just means companies will be making products based on more current works instead of having to dig through 19th century works instead.
  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:31PM (#51250749)

    The original author was alive for years while it was being used by the TV show.
    Now ownership has transferred to their estate, they're suing, after it's been going on for 8 years.

  • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
    While I think CBS/Warner are probably in the right here, I'd still rather see them lose and get harsh penalties. The media cartels made this bed with their utterly ridiculous copyright extensions, now they should get to lie in it.
    • No they're not. Ignorance is not an excuse. They broke they law.
      • My understanding of the situation is that the heirs have a very tenuous thread hanging onto their interpretation of the required renewal of the copyright. I expect if that is true, CBS will squash them to make an example out of them. Whatever the case, until the parties all bring their paperwork to the table and we see what the license agreements actually say, I wouldn't be betting on anybody to win.
  • untold thousands of scientific references: sure...fine...whatever, we hardly get it. if anything maybe dial back the laugh track so the show seems more like a comedy and less like dora the explorer for jokes.
    song about a cat.: sweet mother mary of thundering christs white whiskers...call from on high with a cacophany of wailing babes the name of every lawyer you can summon. a true injustice has been committed.
    • BBT doesn't use a laugh track, it is a live audience laughing you hear.

      How they record a show that takes place in many different places in front of a studio audience though is beyond me.

  • This is just another example, in a long list of examples, why the copyright laws are a joke that has grown why beyond the original intent.
  • 1) This looks like a clear case of copyright infringement to me. They obtained certain rights to the song, but not merchandising and other rights. They owe her big time.

    2) This is a clear example of how absurd our copyright laws have become. This HEIRS author of this ditty deserves NOTHING. The song should have become public domain 50 years after it was created, not have it's copyright life repeatedly extended by Congress drunk on lobbyist donations.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @04:37PM (#51251369)
    While I'm not in favor at all of endlessly extending copyright, I feel that the Bono Act missed two very important points.
    1. If people/companies can't be bothered to remember to file for an extension, tough. Tough tough tough. That's how it was in the past. The current situation where they just get extended automatically won't resolve the issue sometimes where certain old things (ie. photos) may be under copyright but nobody has any idea at all how to find anybody who actually owns the copyright to try to license it.
    2. If these copyrights are so valuable then why on earth is the federal government giving extensions away for free? That makes no sense.

    Here's my proposal. OK, if the current terms aren't enough (ie. perhaps Disney comes to mind here), then at expiration allow the copyright holder to apply for a 10 year extension. The price? $100,000. Then when that expires, let them apply for another 10 year extension at 10 times the price of the previous one. So the next extension is $1 million, then $10 million, then $100 million, then $1 billion, then $10 billion, and so on. Eventually even Disney won't pay for it anymore. Could Disney really justify to its stockholders paying $10 million to renew the copyright on the oldest version of Mickey Mouse for 10 more years? Maybe not. But I'm pretty sure that once it reaches $1 billion that nobody is going to want to do that. Exponentially rising costs allows the copyright holder the opportunity to renew if they are willing to pay for it, which I think is fair if these copyrights are so valuable that they just must be extended. Since few will agree to pay even $100,000 in my solution, stuff will at least finally enter the public domain. If it makes anybody feel better, the recent EU copyright extension was so contentious that I can't imagine there's any real political will in Europe to ever extend that beyond what it is now.
  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @07:32PM (#51252691) Homepage
    Two hundred posts and not one joke yet about soft pussy, warm pussy.

    I guess I'm the only pervert on slashdot.

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