Jimi: All Rights Reserved
Updated: Jun 16
Copyright law is engaged with the everlasting quest of balancing between authors’ reward and the public’s access to cultural material. This quest guides lawmakers into drafting copyright laws a certain way: exclusive and (relatively) long. #Copyright gives authors full control over their works for as long as they live. When they move onto the afterlife, the heirs execute such control for several years (70, in most countries). So, is there an issue? Well, a few apparently. The nature of these issues could surprise you, just like the movie JIMI: All is by my side surprised me with its (lack of) music.
This was a cool, fresh, urban movie. I liked its flow, I liked Andre 3000’s catchy accent and his unbelievably good performance. Nevertheless, the main reason why I watch biopics is to experience the backstage stories. You know, getting to know the people and the moods that inspired the lyrics, the lucky incidents that marked history through art. For example, in case you’re among the people who enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody, to what extent is this attributable to the movie’s soundtrack and the songs’ backstories? I guess a lot. The curious case of Jimi is that his biopic doesn’t contain any of his songs and my intuition told me that it had something to do with copyright law. It’s a known fact that Jimi had a terrible relationship with the law thanks to his ignorance towards it, which is the least attractive feature of all artists - but perfectly tolerable if they are able to do this.
Google proved me right. The heirs of Jimi’s #intellectualproperty had not allowed director John Ridley to use his songs. I assumed this decision took a stand against one particular scene in the movie, which in case you have seen, is easily identifiable.
Whether it is right for the heirs to control reproduction is subjected to debate. We’d have to start discussing what justice is and that conversation is a long one (whereas the recommended time to read an article is 3 minutes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Hence we shall modify our question - is it unfair? Three friends use their #intellecto to solve this matter - a fan, a musician and a lawyer.
The fan thinks this is an injustice bigger than that monkey business that Ed Chaplin did, causing Jimi to go broke. Culture is made to be distributed and Jimi himself would have never approved of such limitations. His movie aims to glorify Jimi’s heritage, which primarily includes his music, to give the full experience (pun intended). The fan knows that Janie (the heiress sister) was born during the time that Jimi went to military school and never returned home. So, the sister didn’t know him well enough to perceive his works’ integrity as he would. She never even heard him play! It would be hard for such a person to invest his heritage in the right direction.
The musician wishes to use a fraction of Jimi’s song, hence he needs a license that is not always guaranteed. He says that the relationship between copyright and the author is limited in time, so that the author is rewarded and incentivized. But after the author has received all that he could, the public must freely enjoy the work. Continued control is unfair, because art is made to be built upon, to make new art that albeit not better, could be different, mirroring each generation's nuance. If this has to be limited, only the author himself must be able to say so.
And this is where the lawyer walks in to clear everything up. He starts from the foundations: the law recognized the right of heirs to limit reproductions. #UScopyrightlaw has undergone major changes during the last century. Jimi’s main creative activity manifested during 1965 – 1970. After the 1976 amendment of the Copyright Act, his copyright lasts 75 years from the day of publication (so, until 2045 at the latest). Jimi passed away in September 1970 and without a testament, the rights to all his songs were transferred to his dad, Al Hendrix. This is where his heirs earned the right to do as they please with the intellectual assets that they inherited. In 1995, Al founded Experience Hendrix LL.C., the company which manages Jimi’s copyright to date, which is now under his sister Janie’s authority. When director John Ridley contacted Janie, she didn’t agree to license the songs unless she would have a say in the movie’s content (remember that scene, or watch the movie dammit). Biopics are loaded with subjectivity. They’re fruits of the memories and surmises that shaped the director’s perception of the subject and the movie’s plot. Jimi’s heirs would not have liked the portrayal (lack of portrayal), which they received in the movie and they put their intellectual inheritance to good use.
The lawyer keeps talking about principles of reward and incentive, which justify the monopoly that copyright law is. It is a tax that the individual has to pay for a while, in order for society to enjoy the arts in perpetuity. The economic rights allow heirs to make choices that the author may not have made and since the US copyright law does not recognize the full stack of moral rights, the heirs may freely execute their will as they wish. #ExperienceHendrixL.L.C is exploiting its economic rights and the fan has to be patient and enjoy this sound-less movie as it is.
The musician could pay a compulsory license fee in order to use the musical composition. The US recognizes two types of copyright in music: for musical compositions, which include the lyrics, and for sound recordings that in some countries are recognized as neighboring rights. To use the music composition, the musician could pay a statutory fee (a US peculiarity) under the condition that he doesn’t change the basic melody of the original work. In order to make fundamental changes, he would need Janie’s approval. Only 25 years from now he will be able to use everything freely.
Here the lawyer ends his speech and he is surprised to notice that the others didn’t seem to enjoy the sound of his voice as much as he did. Bummer.
By The Inprovert