Judge Judy and Copyright
Posted October 25th, 2007 by David J. Ensign
I like Judge Judy. She has to resolve a case within 10 minutes or so, so she cuts through the formalities, drags out her "preponderance of the evidence" yardstick, and cautions litigants not to pee on her leg and tell her it's raining. Most of the cases involve jilted lovers, former roommates, and family members with loans that have gone bad. Last night, she heard a case where a school teacher hired a man with a sound studio to record some children's songs. The man agreed to do so, was paid the price he originally quoted, but then didn't produce the recordings. The copyright issue was kind of murky. The plaintiff school teacher made it sound like she had written the songs. The defendant claimed that he "obtained the copyrights" and that he wanted to use them himself, which suggested that maybe he had obtained licenses to use songs that the teacher had not written. Judge Judy decided the case based on contract; the teacher had paid $650 to obtain recordings, the defendant took the money but did not produce the recordings, and so the teacher was entitled to the return of her payment. Judge Judy said that the teacher was just seeking the return of her payment, so there was no need for her to determine who was entitled to use the copyrights (sic). Obviously, this case was really not about copyright law. I liked it because it brought to people's attention that the use of music requires some sort of permission. I know that many teachers assume that any educational use is fair use. In reality, I know that many of the things they want to do with copyrighted works, while being class-related and not benefitting them personally, don't qualify as fair use. Maybe next week Judge Judy will tackle an antitrust action.