Update on JibJab: Fred von Lohmann over at EFF’s Deep Links reports that Guthrie lifted the melody for “This Land is Your Land” from the song “When the World’s on Fire,” recorded by the Carter Family ten years prior. Eugene Volokh (who has had a series of interesting comments on this case) notes that if correct this significantly strengthen’s JibJab’s fair-use argument, but I think the more interesting take-home message is that This Land is My Land was (and perhaps still is) probably a copyright violation itself. Not that this should surprise anyone — copyright violation is practically a part of the definition of folk music. No doubt the Carter Family didn’t mind Guthrie’s song any more than Woodie would have minded JibJab, but imagine how much poorer we all would be if a rights-holder like The Richmond Organization had kept This Land is My Land from being recorded?
As Lessig points out, we citizens have the right to change the law. Copyright is a government regulation on the marketplace of ideas, one that restricts some speech in the hope that it will encourage others to produce more. We’re all fully aware that the Net has radically shifted how the marketplace of ideas now works and will continue to work in the future. Isn’t it about time we reexamined whether this government regulation still makes sense?