Monday, May 31, 2010

IP rights in sounds

In its Almanac feature on 30 May 2010, CBS Sunday Morning noted aspects of the life of Mel Blanc [ May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989]. One thing that wasn't noted was Blanc's break-out insistence on receiving credit for his voice roles. In a craft wherein the product is a sound, and the makers of the sound were in some sense fungible, Blanc acted to protect his talents by insisting on on-screen credit for his work.

Though the actual intellectual property might be owned by someone other than Blanc, there were many trademark lines associated with Blanc characters:

Bugs Bunny: "What's up, doc?"

Tweety-Pie: "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat"

Porky Pig: "That's All Folks" [which appears on Blanc's tombstone]

In terms of "single source" in trademark law, the famous laugh of Woody Woodpecker was originally done for a character Happy Rabbit (the precursor of Bugs Bunny). When Blanc got an exclusive contract with Warner Brothers, he no longer did Woody Woodpecker (Lantz/Universal) and the laugh stayed with Woody, not with Blanc.

One can have a trademark in a sound, as for example NBC rights in its signature chimes.

***On a matter related to cartoons, recall the lines in the episode of The Simpsons titled
The Day the Violence Died -->

Animation is built on plagiarism! If it weren't for someone plagiarizing The Honeymooners, we wouldn't have The Flintstones. If someone hadn't ripped off Sergeant Bilko, there'd be no Top Cat. Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Hah! Andy Griffith, Edward G. Robinson, Art Carney."

And the memorable line: You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?”

***Also, recall William S. Burroughs, and Naked Lunch and the “cut-up method.". Curiously, the Burroughs of the cut-up method was the grandson of William Seward Burroughs I, an inventor of an adding machine (US patents 388,116 to 388,110), for whom the Burroughs Corporation was named. Burroughs became part of Unisys.

Cross-reference: comment by "S. Burroughs" on post When plagiarism inspires creativity


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