Arlo Guthrie, folk singer son of Woody Guthrie, was recently interviewed on NPR regarding the JibJab controversy (‘This Land’ Parody Riles Rights Holder). For those who don’t want to use Real, I’ve transcribed the relevant parts:
Q. So how did your father feel about the use of his songs? Did he regard them as his private intellectual property or were they for the public use?A. Well, I think, both. He was one of those guys that wrote a lot of songs and he said on numerous occasions that he wasn’t really concerned about the money part of it, the publishing, the business part. He was more interested in getting the ideas out. And, having said that, he did set up in motion, he did give these songs to the Richmond organization, a lot of them anyway, to safeguard them and to protect them over the years. So I think there is a little bit of both.
Q. Your father was a political musician. What do you think he would have said about people using his music for political purposes?
A. Well, I really can’t speak for him. I can just tell you that when I saw it a few weeks ago I thought it was one of the funniest commentaries if not one of the most directly inspired… I called my sister, I called my friends, I sent everybody a link to the site so that they could go see it. And we’ve all been laughing about it since then. I think my dad would have absolutely loved the humor in it.
Q. What else does your family have to say about it? Do you have any influence with the Richmond company?
A. Well, we probably do, but on the other hand, they don’t call me for legal advice and I don’t ask them for moral advice. It’s a business operation. I think the thing that has concerned them, if what I’ve read is true, is that the parody doesn’t overcome the song. There is this old song, “On Top of Old Smokey,” that was a hit back in the fifties. No one remembers that anymore, we all remember “On Top of Spaghetti.” I don’t think that is a problem with this song because in three months it will be a moot point. It will have lost the humor and not be around forever. So, I don’t see what the major complaint would be.
I don’t think that this JibJab version of “This Land is Your Land” is going to replace the original song and it doesn’t really compromise it. I think it makes fun of both of these guys to some extent. I just think it is incredibly wonderful bit of hilarity in the midst of an overserious conversation.
Bonus: Guthrie was interviewed at a Flying J truckstop in Des Moines, Iowa.
See also, NPR’s discussion of This Land is Your Land as one of the top 100 American songs shaping the twentieth century (NPR 100: This Land Is Your Land). The 13-minute feature includes a discussion of the fact that the underlying melody is borrowed.
For those who missed it, EFF officially announced their lawsuit on behalf of JibJab (JibJab Files Suit):
As has been widely reported, EFF has filed suit on behalf of JibJab to defend the “This Land” animated short. As we reported last week, music publisher Ludlow Music Inc., owner of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” had threatened copyright litigation against JibJab. In light of the July 30 deadline that Ludlow had set down in its threat letters to JibJab and its upstream hosting providers, we felt we had little choice but to file suit to defend JibJab’s fair use and free speech rights.Both sides continue to exchange correspondence, and JibJab hopes this dispute can be resolved without further litigation. For the reasons discussed in our July 28 letter to Ludlow, we continue to believe that “This Land” is a fair use, especially in light of the fact that Woody himself borrowed the melody from an earlier song.