CLOSE
iStock
iStock

The Time the Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of 2 Live Crew

iStock
iStock

At the peak of 2 Live Crew's popularity, their music was about as well known in the courts as it was on the radio. The Miami rap group was famous for their bawdy and sexually explicit music that occasionally led to arrests and fines under some states' obscenity laws. In 1987, a record store clerk in Florida was charged with a felony (and later acquitted) for selling the group's debut album to a 14-year-old girl. The next year, a store in Alabama was fined for selling their record to an undercover cop.

Because of the group's notorious reputation, a few counties in Florida even tried to outright ban their 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. In 1990, the Broward County Sheriff's Office arrested two of the band's members for a nightclub performance because a Federal district judge there had ruled their music to be obscene. In 1992, a circuit appeals court overturned that judge's ruling, and the Broward County court's efforts to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court failed. However, 2 Live Crew would soon be in front of the Highest Court in the Land for another issue.

In 1989, 2 Live Crew made a non-explicit version of their hit album, cheekily titled As Clean As They Wanna Be. There was only one song on that record that was not included on the explicit version: a parody of Roy Orbison's “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The unmistakable bassline of the classic remains, but the group used lyrics that were far more ribald.

2 Live Crew reached out to the publishing company that owned the original song, Acuff-Rose Music, asking for permission and promising royalties and songwriting credits. Acuff’s legal department retorted that, while they were “aware of the success enjoyed by ‘The 2 Live Crews’ [sic],” they “cannot permit the use of a parody of ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’” (Orbison died a year before Acuff-Rose received the request.)

The band put the parody on the low-selling “clean” version of As Nasty As They Wanna Be anyway. The next year, Acuff-Rose sued.

2 Live Crew’s attorneys argued “fair use,” the legal standard allowing for some reproduction of a copyrighted work for things like criticism, parody, or teaching. A Federal appeals court disagreed, ruling that the “blatantly commercial” nature of the record precluded fair use.

After some litigious effort, the case landed before the Supreme Court. There, the question at hand was whether or not a parodist is entitled to fair use protections if they sell their work for a profit. As The New York Times reported, the Court received amicus curiae briefs from Mad Magazine and the Harvard Lampoon arguing that satirical work should be. True to form, The Capitol Steps, a group who performs political song parodies, submitted a brief in song—they sent the Justices a cassette featuring a tune outlining the history of musical parody in the U.S. Acuff-Rose, meanwhile, was backed by briefs from the Songwriters’ Guild and Michael Jackson.

Despite the fact that the Crew had grabbed headlines for their raunchy music, this case was purely based on copyright and not obscenity. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (the Campbell in question refers to Luther Campbell, the group's leader and main producer) was argued on November 9, 1993, and decided on March 7, 1994. The Court voted unanimously in 2 Live Crew's favor to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

Writing for all nine justices, David Souter stated “that a work's commercial nature is only one element” by which to judge fair use. Souter noted the court “might not assign a high rank” to the 2 Live Crew song, but it is a legitimate parody that “can be taken as a comment on the naiveté of the original of an earlier day, as a rejection of its sentiment that ignores the ugliness of street life and the debasement that it signifies.”

In order to illustrate this, Souter included the lyrics to both songs, ensuring that the words “Big hairy woman all that hair it ain't legit; Cause you look like Cousin It" landed on the shelves of every law school library in the country.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
A New Law Could Make It Harder to Access Your Favorite Florida Beaches
iStock
iStock

Florida boasts roughly 8500 miles of coastline—the most of any state in the lower 48 [PDF]—but some of those sunny beaches could soon get a lot harder to access. As Coastal Living reports, a state law passed in 2018 gives private landowners the right to close almost the entirety of their beaches off to the public.

Florida law once required the state to "ensure the public's right to reasonable access to beaches." That policy left the state free to sell miles of coastal land to big tax generators like condos and hotels, while still keeping the waterfront accessible to local beach lovers and the millions of tourists who visit the state each year.

Sixty percent of Florida beaches are now privately owned. Under the new law, tides will turn in favor of those private landowners, allowing them to restrict access to any part of the beach above the high tide line. Starting July 1, they will be able to decide who does and doesn't get to set foot on their oceanfront property.

An online petition campaigning to keep those beaches open to all has already garnered more than 52,000 signatures. If that effort doesn't succeed, local governments will still have the power to remove restrictions from privately owned beaches, but they will need to petition a judge to do so. Any city ordinances about beach access passed prior to 2016 will also stay in effect.

Florida isn't the only coastal state where the question of who owns the beaches is up for debate. Wealthy homeowners in California have been known to hire security guards to remove people from the beaches in front of their houses, despite the fact that beaches in the state are public property. The courts have largely sided with the masses, though: In 2017, a billionaire landowner in northern California was ordered by a state court to restore public access to the beach in front of his property, which he had previously closed off with a locked gate.

Even with the new law, the portion of Florida shoreline that falls within the tide will always belong to the state. But that may not help anyone who has to traverse private property to get there.

[h/t Coastal Living]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
Some of Your Favorite Movies, Books, and Music Are About to Enter the Public Domain
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In America, copyright terms have serious staying power. Thanks to several laws involving, in part, Mickey Mouse, the U.S. government has extended copyright protections for decades past what other countries require, effectively keeping any work published after 1922 firmly out of the public domain to this day. That means you can’t legally use images and artistic works without permission from (and probably payment to) the owner of the copyright. But soon, a new batch of work is set to enter the public domain, marking the first time that has happened in decades, according to The Atlantic. That means you’ll be able to use, remix, and even sell those works without getting into legal trouble.

In most other countries, literature, art, films, music, and certain other creative works are under copyright for the life of their author plus some number of years (in many places, it’s 50 or 70 years). For instance, people in Canada and New Zealand became able to use the works of artists like Woody Guthrie without worrying about copyright infringement in 2018.

But Americans are still waiting to use works published in the 1920s. In the U.S., a 1976 law extended copyright protections on everything created between 1923 and 1977 (and beyond) to 75 years, putting work published in 1922 into the public domain in 1998. Then, a 1998 law extended those copyright terms further to 95 years after first publication, protecting anything made after 1922. So copyrighted work from 1923 on wouldn’t enter the public domain until 2019 or later.

All this has kept archival resources like the Internet Archive and Google Books from releasing digital versions of old books, kept TV shows from freely using common songs (like, until recently, “Happy Birthday”), and otherwise stifled cheap and easy access to older works of art and culture.

The time has finally come for works from 1923 to enter the public domain in the U.S. This will include books like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street and Robert Frost’s New Hampshire, which includes the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”—a poem that, despite its popularity, has been strictly controlled by his estate up to this point. Other books from authors like Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, e.e. cummings, and H.G. Wells will also be released into the public domain, as will plenty of films and sheet music. Considering that It’s a Wonderful Life only became a holiday classic when it entered into the public domain due to a clerical error, plenty of other forgotten works might become classics once they are released for royalty-free use next year.

In the meantime, check out some films that are already in the public domain, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. And mark your calendar: Mickey Mouse could be headed to the public domain as early as 2024.

[h/t The Atlantic]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios