Dynamist Blog

Robert Frost's Estate Does Use Copyright to Crush Use of "Stopping by Woods..."

In response to my Bloomberg View column on copyright excesses, my college classmate Joanne Karohl posted the following comment:

Since Frost poems were mentioned in the article, I wanted to mention an interesting use of copyright to prevent someone from using specifically "Stopping by Woods..." A well known composer, Eric Whitacre, wrote a piece for chorus which now goes by the title "Sleep" but was originally written to set "Stopping By Woods" to music. I am not sure if the poem had briefly passed out of copyright in between congressional extensions, or if he believed that he had permission, but in any case after a couple of performances, he was stopped from using the poem by the estate of Robert Frost, and had to have a friend write another poem especially for the music. You can actually find the original work with the Frost words on You Tube...it is much better in my opinion than the final version with the new words.

The story was not only news to me, but actually contradicts a claim, which Tom Bell pointed me to at the last minute, that the copyright on the poem, as opposed to the book in which it appeared, was never properly renewed. Since the Poetry Foundation and others behave as though the poem is under copyright, I decided not to raise the issue in the column and only modified the language slightly--a good call, since the Frost estate does, as Joanne pointed out, go around enforcing the copyright against people making commercial use of the poem.

On his website, Eric Whitacre tells the story of his clash with the estate. He had written a choral work, setting the poem to music, at the request of Julia Armstrong, an Austin, Texas, lawyer and professional mezzo-soprano who sings with the Austin ProChorus. He writes:

The poem is perfect, truly a gem, and my general approach was to try to get out of the way of the words and let them work their magic. We premiered the piece in Austin, October 2000, and the piece was well received. Rene Clausen gave it a glorious performance at the ACDA National Convention in the spring of 2001, and soon after I began receiving letters, emails, and phone calls from conductors trying to get a hold of the work.

And here was my tragic mistake: I never secured permission to use the poem. Robert Frost's poetry has been under tight control from his estate since his death, and until a few years ago only Randall Thompson (Frostiana) had been given permission to set his poetry [to music]. In 1997, out of the blue, the estate released a number of titles, and at least twenty composers set and published Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening for chorus. When I looked online and saw all of these new and different settings, I naturally (and naively) assumed that it was open to anyone. Little did I know that the Robert Frost Estate had shut down ANY use of the poem just months before, ostensibly because of this plethora of new settings.

After a LONG legal battle (many letters, many representatives), the estate of Robert Frost and their publisher, Henry Holt Inc., sternly and formally forbid me from using the poem for publication or performance until the poem became public domain in 2038.

I was crushed. The piece was dead, and would sit under my bed for the next 37 years because of some ridiculous ruling by heirs and lawyers.

He salvaged the work by getting a poet friend, Charles Anthony Silvestri, to write new words for the music. In another blog post, he writes that he prefers the new version and that Silvestri "not only replaced the poem, he saved the piece. He actually made my music much, much better, on every level."

Here's the original. (Apparently the Frost estate hasn't discovered YouTube.)

Here's a video with the new version (and, as the commenters note, a rather anomalous Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj promotion around it):

Dynamists Unite! How Republicans Can Work With Obama

Writing in Forbes, Rich Karlgaard explains the dynamist-stasist dichotomy I developed in The Future and Its Enemies and argues that it offers the best way for Republicans to think about how to work with the second term of the Obama administration. "How should Republicans work with Obama 2.0? The most useful role would be to do everything they can to make sure the dynamists prevail over the stasists in Obama's second Administration."

Among the topics he lists for potential cooperation is copyright reform, which, as I discuss in my new Bloomberg View column, unites dynamists across party lines. Indeed, the dynamist-stasis division (plus self-interest, of course) is the best way to think about the coalitions on that issue. If I ever do another edition of TFAIE, I'll have to have discuss intellectual property. It's funny how in 1998, everybody was worried about Microsoft's monopoly power, fearing it would crush innovation, when the far greater concern should have been the copyright bill working its way through Congress. (See my NYT op-ed and I-told-you-so video on the Microsoft case.)

Rich's discussion of how dynamists and stasists see themselves in Obama also echoes some of my work on his glamour: "Like all larger-than-life politicians, Obama is a Rorschach test: His fans see what they want to see in the man." (I would differentiate between politicians who are larger-than-life by virtue of their charisma and those rarer ones, like the early Obama, who are glamorous.)

UPDATE: Writing from a Democratic perspective, Michael Mandel (whose blog I recommend) struck a similar theme right after the election: "the biggest decision facing the next president—and Americans in general—goes far beyond the 'fiscal cliff', or any of the machinations which fascinate Washingtonians. Should the United States follow its current path of long-term stagnation, or should we choose a road that likely leads to rapid—but disruptive—growth?...

As you might guess, I favor the high-growth economy and the optimism about the future that comes along with it. But we can't fool ourselves–innovation is fundamentally disruptive and risky. We're not just talking smartphones and tablets. The list of potential breakthroughs is long and growing—3D printing to reinvigorate manufacturing, biotech to transform healthcare, nanotech to create new materials. Each of these potential breakthrough technologies can destroy existing businesses and jobs even as they juice up growth.

The high-growth versus stagnation decision does not fit easily into party boxes. There are Republicans and Democrats who favor the status quo and stagnation, just as there are Democrats and Republicans who favor innovation and a high-growth economy. This lack of ideological clarity explains why the debates barely mentioned the internet or mobile (See here http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/the-astonishing-obama-tech-boom-that-he-doesnt-want-to-talk-about/263601/).

"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" without Copyright Permission

In my latest Bloomberg View column, I use Robert Frost's 1923 poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to illustrate the excesses of the current copyright system. YouTube is full of videos of people performing the poem in various ways, with and without copyright permission. Many of the most amusing should fall under fair use, as Eugene Volokh notes in my column, but if the copyright holder claimed otherwise YouTube would probably pull them. Until that day, here's a collection.

Sage, the pigtailed generic cute suburban kid:

Creepily solemn Quinn, who breaks character at the end:

Sadfar, giving Frost's New England South Asian lilt

For more kids, go here, here, here, here, and here.

No work is a classic until it's been realized as a stop-motion video using in Legos or clay.

Check out the Boston accent.

Why the James Bond of Skyfall Is Heroic but Not Glamorous

In a survey of the James Bond movies, pegged to the opening of Skyfall, Slate's Isaac Chotiner points to a quality essential to 007's appeal:

James Bond is not a "realistic" character; real people occasionally smile. But he is a compelling and distinct one. With the right leading man, Bond is just human enough to be believable—and yet sufficiently aloof and suave to appear mostly untroubled by the world's real worries. He thus provides just the right amount of escapism. The best fantasies are those that appear not entirely unattainable.

This observation offers an insight into why Bond used to be the quintessentially glamorous male figure. Glamour offers an emotionally specific version of escapism. It does not merely stir adrenaline or laughter. Rather, glamour provides a way to imaginatively transcend the constraints and burdens of everyday life. For a moment at least, it makes us feel that our greatest yearnings are achievable, that the impossible is possible, that we are not stuck with the life we have.

Bond allowed audiences to project themselves into an ideal life—distant, improbable, but not entirely unimaginable. As Simon Winder argues in The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, that life was particularly remote from the cold, depressing, make-and-mend Britain of the 1950s.

As Bond/Fleming sits in America and tucks into a mountain of crabs and melted butter, gorges on steak 'so soft you can cut it with a fork' and slurps another giant martini it becomes an almost pornographic contrast with the cable-knit sweaters and briarwood pipes, trad-jazz-revival and milk-bar world he had flown away from. As Felix Leiter in the book of Thunderball watches from a helicopter through his binoculars a naked girl sunbathing on a yacht and yells to Bond, 'Natural blonde,' Fleming's original, chilblained, earnest British reader, with his uncontrollable flashbacks to the Burmese jungle and ill-informed keenness on Harald Macmillan, must have flung the novel across the room in despair.

Skyfall continues the Daniel Craig movies' deglamorization of Bond. Here, he epitomizes not the old easy grace but, as M says in his premature obituary, "British perseverance." The film is a celebration of the world the old Bond offered audiences escape from. This stoic, aging 007 belongs to the tough world of Tennyson, Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, not the Jet Set. He struggles, suffers, and eventually wins out.

We don't long to live in his world. We fear we already do.

[Cross-posted from my group blog at DeepGlamour.net]

Jonathan Rauch on Why Offense Is Essential to Learning

"Whenever anyone tells you, 'I've got it right. I've got the one true answer and everyone else is wrong and I'm going to enforce it," that person is not only a menace to freedom but, more important, a menace to human thriving and human knowledge. It would be a shame if universities, of all places in this country, forgot that lesson."

Buy Jonathan's book Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Jonathan's website, including archives of his articles, is here.

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation Invented Pink Ribbons, Now Pitches for All Cancers

In two recent Bloomberg View columns (here and here), I looked at the implications of defining cancers not just by site in the body but by underlying molecular characteristics. In the first column, I particularly criticized the pink wave that overwhelms us every October:

Once again, we have suffered through a full month of pink, pink and more pink, all in the name of "breast cancer awareness." What once was a health-related cause has become the feel-virtuous-and-buy-stuff season wedged between back-to-school and holiday gift giving.

But all this pink reinforces a common fallacy -- one that used to drive me crazy after I was given a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2007. Back then, people inevitably offered their sympathy by telling me how their mothers or sisters or aunts or wives or best friends or colleagues or neighbors had had breast cancer. Everyone assumed what the pink ribbons teach us: that breast cancer is a single disease. Appreciating the good wishes, I stifled the urge to respond, "Probably not the kind I have."

Five years ago, oncologists had already long understood breast cancer as several different diseases that, based on their underlying molecular behavior, react differently to different treatments. (My own cancer was HER2-positive, an aggressive form found in about a quarter of breast-cancer patients and responsive to Genentech Inc.'s (ROG) biologic Herceptin.)

Now we have even more reason to understand breast cancer as multiple diseases....

Breast cancer isn't just more than one disease, it turns out. Some "breast cancer" doesn't seem unique to breasts.

It turns out that the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which originated the pink-ribbon plague (but, which unlike some pink-pitching charities, actually spends its money on research, not "awareness"), understands the strategic challenges. I happened to be on a Delta flight right after the columns ran and read an interview with BCRF president Myra Biblowit in the airline's magazine. Asked what the foundation is focused on in coming years, she responded:

The impact of BCRF-funded research is relevant to all cancers. There are fundamental changes in science afoot, with research increasingly less organ-specific and focused instead at the molecular and genetic level. That means that patients with many different types of cancer can benefit from the findings of BCRF-supported research, because the work of BCRF scientists is showing us the commonalities and links in the genetic aberrations that underlie many cancers.

That's an important message, even if you're not in the cancer-charity business. Now if only they'd rethink the pink...

What Do You Do When You Reach Facebook's 5,000-Friend Limit?

Because the interface is a million times easier than the one for this site, I've long used Facebook for what amounts to blogging. (The items also automatically show up on my Twitter feed, which doesn't happen here.) But I'm starting to run up against Facebook's limit of 5,000 friends--a term they take much more literally than I'd prefer. What they want you to do in this case is create a "Fan" page. But I like the mixture of readers I've never met with my college friends, family members, and actual, as opposed to FB, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. And I agree with Omar Wasow's point, made in a FB thread on this topic, that Fan pages force you into a different, and unwanted, relationship with your FB correspondents. He writes:

Has anyone read a good overview of how to deal with the 5,000 "friend" limit? For a while, I accepted any request. Now, I accept almost none as I'm over 4,000 "friends" and, according to facebook, I've got 1,029 friend requests in the queue. Setting up a "fan" page seems entirely wrong as that would be an even more inaccurate description of my relationship to many acquaintances. Also, while I have a modest public profile (I used to do some work in TV), I really dislike the idea of a "fan" page as that seems to suggest I think of myself as a celebrity (which in my current role as a lowly grad student and aspiring prof is clearly not the case).

So does anyone have an alternative?

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