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A kiss is just a kiss… until you write a book about it!

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26.

Honestly, but skipping the kiss, this book is interesting and intriguing from the start.The Legal Kiss, written by Victoria Sutton, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor at Texas Tech University School of Law, reads like a collection of short essays.

The clever titles for each chapter give you insight on where the author is going to take you – whether it be to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas places an identifying kiss upon Jesus’ cheek or to a modern day New Delhi where Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty are publicly shamed for a passionate back-bending kiss at a charity event. In all of the situations that Sutton takes the reader, she outlines the act of the kiss and its intended and unintended consequences within society and the law.

As an academic librarian, I am always looking at how other people introduce and explain complex or abstract legal theories. For that purpose, I would recommend this book for being able to make obscure concepts of the law come to life. For example, Sutton discusses “the celebrated contractual kisses” in the context of whether or not a kiss (or a bunch of kisses) can be consideration for a contract. And if so, would the court require specific performance for the enforcement of said contract? In my opinion, it is much more interesting reading about specific performance when the performance involves the question of what constitutes a legal kiss rather than whether a duck is adequate consideration for a sales contract. As an added feature, I don’t believe libraries would have a hard time marketing this book to their patrons. It basically promotes itself. I think it would be an easy addition to any new books shelf or on a book display set up around our favorite February holiday because its title and appearance would spark the interest of shelf browsers.

Let me step back and take a hard look at the content, not just the packaging. Before Sutton begins to even explore the legal kiss, she provides the caveat that this work is not a complete treatise on the subject. Take her word for it. It is not. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of authority cited throughout the book and in the bibliography at the end. That being said, Sutton does provide the relevant authority when discussing subject-specific topics, such as citing the Restatements when discussing tort and contract claims, Supreme Court opinions when considering “Kisses and the Konstitution [sic],” and various other legal primary and secondary authority along the way. I believe the scope of the work is intentionally surface level, which provides an air of lightheartedness to the book.  Because of the coverage, I would not recommend this for a book to keep at reference, unless your reference staff is compensated with two lips in lieu of dollars and cents!

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It was fun to sit and read about all the different ways a simple kiss on the cheek, lips, or a “Kiss my A**” has been twisted and construed by our courts and legislatures. If you plan to kick off your Valentine’s Day celebration with a kiss, make sure you read this book to be sure you’ll steer clear of any legal ramifications! Or if you do get caught kissing (say in Times Square) and someone makes big bucks off of the picture of you and your partner, know that you can consult this book for your chances to cash in. After reading this book, I kiss off with a positive and doting review.

This book review was originally published in the AALL Spectrum Blog.

The Legal Kiss: The Legal Aspects of the Kiss, by Victoria Sutton, MPA, PhD, JD. Vargas Publishing, Inc (2011). Trade paperback, 131 pages, listed on Amazon for $18.99.

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Taking Creative License

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

by Gina Jarrett

It’s hard to believe iconic albums such as Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” and the Beastie Boys album, “Paul’s Boutique” couldn’t be made today.  These works of musical genius contain so many samples of other artists’ works that the licensing fees would be astronomical, making their commercial release practically impossible.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not think about a world where these albums didn’t exist.  Whether or not you’re a fan of either of these artists, it’s hard to deny the influence these albums have had on pop culture.

Kembrew McLeod is a well-published author on music, copyright, and popular culture. Peter DiCola is a law professor from Northwestern University. Together, they’ve written a fascinating look at the impact of U.S. copyright laws on sampling in the music business.  The book, Creative License: the Law and Culture of Digital Sampling [available in the PCL], notes that genres of music involving heavy sampling have been strangled to the point of near extinction, allowing only wealthy artists such as Jay-Z to be able to afford to include a few seconds of another’s work in their own tunes and release them commercially.

Creative License begins with a look at the musical era that pushed this debate to the forefront and got everyone—especially angry artists and their lawyers—discussing fair compensation for the use of the musical property of others.  This “musical property” not only includes composer’s rights, but the rights of the owner of the recorded version of the original. Ubiquitous songs such as Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing;” Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”; and MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”— all contain samples of other artists’ works.  As these songs became million-sellers, the credits (and royalties) didn’t always go to every artist involved.  Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin” was used in “Wild Thing;” two songs by Kraftwerk were used in “Planet Rock;” and Rick James’ “Super Freak” was used in “Can’t Touch This.” Whether or not Van Halen, Kraftwerk, and Rick James deserved money from the sales of the tunes that borrowed from them became the ultimate question.  Some artists saw any legislation on this as a direct assault on their artistic freedom.  Some music fans and critics agreed.  This debate continues today.  However, legislation has since been passed and a few landmark rulings have forced legal departments of music labels to research everything very carefully to try to avoid costly litigation against them and their artists.

As McLeod and DiCola point out, sampling has been going on for a long time.  They cite the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” as one early example.  The authors give an excellent definition of sampling as a form of musical collage: the taking of other works of art and inserting them into a new work of art.  When the items sampled were classical music recordings from EMI Studio’s archives, as with “Revolution#9,” no one paid much attention.  Over time, on both sides of the Atlantic, club DJs began using recordings of well-known tunes to create mashups.  Unknown artists struggling to make a name for themselves, began sampling well-known works into their creations and circulating underground demos.  Again, no one noticed.  But when the new works became wildly popular, that’s when the legal headaches really began.  In short, popular songs that sampled other popular songs were vulnerable to lawsuits.  And the more recognizable the sample, the greater the vulnerability.

In the beginning there were really no clear laws in place to govern this new area of music.  Artists such as Public Enemy released entire albums created with the works of others.  At the time, if laws had forced the group to clear everything they used, it would have been disastrous.  Their works, especially the “Black Planet” album, used hundreds of works from many places.  Researching and clearing all materials used would’ve been a “legal nightmare.”

McLeod and DiCola talk with artists such as Yoko Ono, David Byrne, and George Clinton about how they’ve used sampling legally as well as their views on how copyright laws have helped or hurt the music industry.  Music industry insiders are also consulted, such as: music lawyer Donald Passman, Dean Garfield (formerly of the Recording Industry Association of America), and hip-hop historian/music journalist Jeff Chang.  Also interviewed are DJs and other underground musicians who admit they still “borrow” from others—they’ve learned to better disguise it and accept the legal risk of getting caught.  There’s discussion of how the current legal climate is creatively stifling and suggestions as to how these problems might be solved to fairly compensate all artists involved.  This book also tells the stories behind several major music industry lawsuits without dry legal analysis.

This book is excellent reading for both music lovers and law students. You will learn something. I promise.

Last minute gift ideas? Book Recommendations from the PCL.

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

As you are running around this holiday season, you may want to pick up one or two last-minute gifts.  Or maybe you want to snuggle up and enjoy a good book while it rains over the course of this week.  Here are the last of our suggestions for reading over the holiday break.

Professor Kate Irwin-Smiler recommends two authors for students and faculty to pick up and read for entertainment over the holidays.

  • James Patterson’s Alex Cross books. I cruised through these when I was on break in law school and there are a ton. Very short chapters & they go quickly. (18 so far!)
  • Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War books – The author of The Other Boleyn Girl has a historical fiction series based in England’s War of Roses (15th century). These books focus on the women involved in the English dynastic struggle between the Lancastrian and York houses. So far, there are three books – The White Queen [Available at ZSR], The Red Queen [Available at ZSR], and The Lady of the Rivers [Brand new, but already available at ZSR}, with more to come.

As a recent read, Dan Freehling recommends, Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart [Available at the High Point Public Library or through Interlibrary Loan (ILL)]. In an interview with Stewart published in  the New Yorker,  writes that “‘the broad public commitment to telling the truth under oath has been breaking down.’ Drawing on new interviews, full court transcripts, and hundreds of investigative notes that have remained private until now, Stewart meticulously and startlingly reconstructs the cases of Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernard Madoff—and scrutinizes how lying by each of these figures affects the American justice system, and society as a whole.” For the full interview, see The Book Bench column from April 2011.

Professor Barbara Lentz also shares some favorites from her family.  Her husband recommends the title, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History [Available at ZSR]. And, Professor Lentz enjoyed reading cookbooks and essays after oneL exams, and along those lines strongly recommend Heat by Bill Buford [Available at ZSR], and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential [Available at ZSR], which reminds Professor Lentz of being a line cook, kitchen serf and bartender in college. See the other titles Professor Lentz recommended in an earlier blog post, “More Wintery Reads: Recommendations from WFU Faculty.”

If you think we missed one of the most crucial books of the season, please drop us a line in the comments!

Justice Older Than Law… In the Limelight

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

With the beginning of each year, faculty and students get together for an evening of fun and literature.  This year, the 1L Book Discussions are centralized around the book, Justice Older than Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree.  Behind the story: Katie McCabe & Dovey Johnson Roundtree wrote an amazing book together published in 2009.  Justice Older than Law is one of  those books you don’t forget – it’s one that details the story of a woman that tells the story of a nation.

So here’s a snippet of what to expect (I am going to apologize in advance for any injustice done to Katie McCabe’s voice and Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s story in this excerpt).  For an audio excerpt by McCabe, click here.

Dovey Mae Johnson was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and her story begins at that the lowest vantage point: her grandmother’s feet.  Johnson tells the story of how her grandmother’s feet were deformed and mangled by fighting off one of the slave masters of her childhood.  The story tells of how her grandmother fought off the white man, but left her permanently scarred by the attack.  The scarring had to be soothed daily as her grandmother’s feet were never healed.  Throughout the book, Johnson refers back to this story of injustice, the constant pain of the battles fought for justice, and the courage and ferocity she learned from her grandma Rachel.  “Like a mighty stream, her courage flowed through [Johnson’s] childhood, shaping [her] as rushing water shapes the pebbles in its path” (p. 5)
Johnson’s quest for greatness started simply: her eighth grade teacher, Miss. Edythe Wimbish.  With the love and support of her mother and grandfather, Johnson found her way through education.  Whether reading the encyclopedias bought penny by penny by her grandfather or her own mother’s vision of Johnson’s greatness, Dovey found a way into a different world: Spelman.
At Spelman, a literature professor named Mary Mae Neptune became her mentor, encouraging Johnson to think critically and question world events through scrutizing newspapers, with particular attention to the articles detailing Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  According to Johnson, “the New York Times was our Bible, and [Miss Neptune] expected everyone who crossed the threshold of [the Campus Mirror newspaper office] to read it — not quickly, not at a glance as we typed up our stories, not on the run, but closely and carefully and analytically” (p. 28). In those years, Johnson “learned a truth [she] would carry with [her] in the years to come: what had cowed those half million folk upon whom Hitler had set his sights was the same kind of intimidation [she] had known every day of [her] life” (p. 30).
After Roundtree’s adventures with the military, she found herself at Howard Law School right at the heart of the civil rights movement.  Roundtree witnessed first hand oral arguments that forever changed America.
That’s all for now folks, because I don’t want to spoil the book for you.  We have a couple copies of the book in our collection available for our students, staff and faculty to check out. Also, Katie McCabe wrote an excellent article in the Washingtonian that parallels the book, She Had a Dream, The Washingtonian (March 2002).  Look forward to more reviews and insights after this week’s 1L discussions!