Monthly Archives: September 2012

The subject of law does not hit home for many bloggers. Even a lawyer’s blog, like this one, tends to focus on anything but the law (but, one may find, that law is intertwined with virtually everything).

But copyright law is, or should be, of interest to the blogosphere.

In one of my recent postings, I included the poem “Every Riven Thing” by Christian Wiman in its entirety. I did not quote excerpts from the poem because, in my mind, the poet’s beautiful style and flow would only come through if the entire poem was reproduced. Any particular segment would not have served justice to what I was trying to portray. And of course, I cited the poet’s full name as my source.

A good friend of mine pointed out that it would be wise for me to quote an excerpt of the poem and have a link to the actual poem itself, as a precautionary measure to possible copyright infringement. He had a good point, and one that is not unsupported; many writers, when including poetry or other works, do include something saying “with the author’s permission”.

Copyright infringement is not a light affair, so I did my fair share of research, and my personal conclusion at this point is as follows: the law is murky.

The issue of importance is the doctrine of “Fair Use”. Section 107 of the Copyright Law carves out limitations on exclusive rights to copyrighted material, stating that “the fair use of a copyrighted work . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Additionally, four factors will be taken into consideration when determining whether the use of a work is a “fair use”: (1) the purpose and character of the use (such as commercial nature); (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The case law on the “fair use” doctrine draws no clear lines as to what kind of use is “fair”. According to the 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law, courts have generally regarded the following uses as “fair”: quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

In short, when quoting exact passages from works, courts were ok if you’re quoting excerpts or short passages. That said, to my knowledge, there is nothing to definitively state that quoting entire poems for non-commercial purposes (one of the exceptions specifically carved out in the statute itself) is infringement. The blog post that includes the Wiman poem could very well be deemed as a “commentary” or as a “scholarly” piece. There was absolutely no commercial purpose, either in the posting itself or my blog (God knows I don’t make a buck out of this), and my post certainly does not affect the value of Wiman’s work. The only issue that lingers is that I quoted the entire poem, and, according to the statute, courts may consider the portion of the quoted excerpt.

The bottom line is, if you don’t want annoying-as-hell legal trouble (however remote the chances), you’d be wise not to quote entire works. I would argue any day that non-commercial use of a poem for a personal blog is well within the statutory limitation. However, that’s just me; I should probably advise you to cover your ass when you can. If, for whatever reason, your blog provides financial gain (through online advertising, etc.), you should take this more seriously, since a court may say that your blog has a commercial purpose. In that case, you should get the author’s permission to reproduce any work in their entirety.

The law becomes more convoluted when dealing with audio and video material and artwork, and the Internet probably complicates things even more. But starting out with Wiman’s poem is enough to build awareness of this issue.

As for me and Wiman’s poem? I’m sticking to my guts; the poem looks better as a whole, and my post would lose its meaning and value if I quoted only a few lines. Hell, maybe I’ll change my mind if I face a court order.

Sue me.

* This is not intended to be used as legal advice. This is solely the author’s thoughts on the interpretation of certain portions of the Copyright Act.

Thursday nights are not particularly special, besides being the day before Friday. During the glorious years of law school, Thursday nights played host to “bar reviews”, kicking off a weekend of procrastination and rehabilitation.

The smell of chicken fat burning in charcoal was present two blocks away from El Pollo Rico. 8 pm, and there’s no parking. After driving two loops around the place, I finally get in. When did this side of Arlington become such a hot spot? The place is packed, with mostly customers waiting for to-go orders, some greedily hunched over their plate of chicken.

Three guys around a table, cans of Diet Coke and Inca Cola, steak fries, and a whole charcoal-roasted chicken beaming in eternal glory. One friend, Scholar, says he ate here just the other night, but what the hell, he digs in anyway. The other friend, the Chairman, is a Peruvian chicken virgin, and he seems impressed.

Two lawyers and a historian. As usual, we start off with the political round up, meaning Scholar and I trash the GOP just to spite the Chairman (we always get a kick out of that). Oh the proud Texan and dedicated Old Party-er, but a swell guy. We catch up on life, studying, the job search, women, married life (a recent addition to the repertoire, thanks to yours truly). Overheard by any inquisitive listener, our exchanges, up to this point, are almost as meaningless as talking to an empty chair (who’s idea was that again?).

Almost two whole chickens have been gnawed to the bone, soda emptied, steak fries gone, we change venues. Scholar introduces a coffee and wine joint down the street, and at 10 pm, the place is still hot. Northside Social is my type of coffee house. Casual, vintage-inspired, minimal deco, and most of all, great coffee (they brew Counter Culture).

You know, coffee tastes different depending on what time of day you drink it, and also where you drink it under what circumstances. Counter Culture drip at 10:30 pm on a weeknight, belly stuffed with Peruvian chicken, T-shirt drenched with charcoal smoke – coffee, at that point in time, is at its magnificent peak.

Who would have thought that we would have a dead serious discussion about poetry? I supplied the initial trigger, when I stated, proudly: law students are assholes, and lawyers are bigger assholes. Then from left field, Scholar diagnoses our assholeness to a lack of poetry. Our stale case books and stale minds, he lectures, must be entrenched with buttercream-moist-oozing poems to make up for the lack of humanity in our cursed souls.

With no previously discovered affinity towards poetry, I bluff him off. We may be assholes, I tell him, but let it be known that poetry has nothing to do with it. But jacking my i-Phone, he thrusts under my nose a poem that would, admittedly, lead to my acknowledgement that yes, we lawyers would be smaller assholes if we studied poetry. Here it is –

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made

sing his being simply by being

the thing it is:

stone and tree and sky,

man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,

means a storm of peace.

Think of the atoms inside the stone.

Think of the man who sits alone

trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made

there is given one shade

shaped exactly to the thing itself:

under the tree a darker tree;

under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made

the things that bring him near,

made the mind that makes him go.

A part of what man knows,

apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

“Every Riven Thing” by Christian Wiman


“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou –

Agreed. Humankind learns from history, the goal of which is to not repeat our errors and to form a better future than our past. And agreed. Not repeating history takes enormous courage and sacrifice, both political and personal. One may argue that it is a choice, made consciously to not repeat and relive what one deems unproductive and atrocious, a choice that one may unconsciously believe to be made independently with not divine intervention of time and its surroundings.

But history repeats itself. Hence, Winston Churchill famously said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” The current repetition is best described as a series of uprisings. Although the degree, form and purpose differ vastly across continents, an overlap exists: the “commoners” demand to be heard.

Post first World War Egypt was changing rapidly, particularly its social and economic settings. New industries were developing, a different capital flow was coming in, and most importantly, the commoners, who were mostly slaves in the past, were awakening to realize their enslaved hardships. Literacy rates were at an all-time high, and means of communication, although still sluggish, were rapidly improving, allowing information and ideas to flow freely throughout the country. This synergy created a seething bond, a nation, resulting in an uproar for individual freedom and democracy.

A century later, modern Egypt birthed another uproar. The story sounds eerily similar; freedom suppressed for decades by a dictator, improved communication webs enabling the free-flow of ideas, and most importantly, commoners realizing their depressed current states and doing something about it. This wildfire has spread with bushfire speed, and has engulfed Syria for the past fourteen months. Syria indeed is on the extreme end; thousands of civilians have lost their lives. However, the pattern of revolt is nothing new.

No literal bloodshed yet, but a similar pattern is detected in South Korea. A formidable potential candidate has emerged in the race for the Blue House. Dr. Ahn Chul Soo, currently a professor at Seoul National University and formerly the founder of Ahn Lab, the first company to create and distribute computer vaccines in Korea, is riding a tidal wave strong enough to shake the foundations of the political establishment. What is striking is that Dr. Ahn has no political experience to speak of, and that he has not even formally declared his candidacy. What he has done for the past decade is simple: connect. Whether or not his motives are genuine, Dr. Ahn has become the symbol for what the Korean commoners want in their president. Someone who embodies two-way communication, someone who is genuinely concerned for the well-being of the common, and not thrashed around by the current establishment dominated by wealthy conglomerates.

Freedom does not endure. Fantasize all you want, but history does not lie. A once-successful uproar brings about a period of liberties, and the commoners thrive and rejoice. That period is almost always followed by a dictator, albeit in different forms and figures. The commoners are subdued once more, until another spark ignites the courage and necessity to realize and fulfill one’s destined freedom.

“Life is a whore. Whatever you do, you always get screwed.”

So said my seventh-grade clarinet teacher. Traumatic? Yes, to a docile pupil with virgin ears and no real life experiences to speak of, traumatic and daunting.

Life is probably not a whore, and in many ways, one can find ways to not get screwed at everything one does. But life is a grind. One would love to sit here on a gloomy Wednesday morning and write about a vacation in St. Barts, or peer through lush photos of delicious eateries at the hottest grub joints in town and around the world. Both are great things, but 98% of the time, either life clutches your balls or you clutch his. It’s a struggle.

Some of us were not born to wealthy parents, some of us have no privileged backgrounds. Some of us had to work part-time gigs just to get through school, some of us gave up our own lunch money to feed our siblings. Some of us chowed down on ramen noodles before playing in junior-varsity basketball games, some of us gladly accepted a bucket of the Colonel’s best from a kind neighbor.

The mountain top never seems to come in sight. We climb hills with different slopes, some steeper than others. We carry different loads on our shoulders and backs, some heavier than others. We have family and friends climbing alongside us, maybe trailing us, some more than others.

There must have been a time when getting bread and water on the table was the mountain top. That achieved, one would think that there was no slope to climb, no hill to scale. But life for many of us is more than bread and water. If I’m spending twelve hours of my daily life doing something, those twelve hours beg for a cause, a cause worthy of the struggle, a cause plentifully worthy of the climb. Not all of us have such pleasures. In the end, yes, it is about bread and water. Still.

As Nikos Kazantzakis put it in his travel account of Cairo, “Nowhere on Earth have I felt such violent and sensual contact of life with death. The ancient Egyptians used to place a mummy in the center of their banquet halls in order to look upon death and sharpen their joyful awareness of the tiny flash of their own life.”

There lies a partial answer to this struggle. Twenty-somethings do not discuss death. We are, after all, in our minds, immortal, infallible beings. We take to our beds at night, assuming that we shall rise the following morning. The question is never “if” tomorrow comes, but always “when”. I dare say this naive frame of mind contributes mightily to our misfortune.

Life is most brilliant when standing side-by-side with death. The sooner one grasps the concept of death and the afterlife, the more meaningful and fulfilling our everyday lives will be. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is no eternity. Our struggles, our hills and mountains, are no eternity. Fleeting, at best. A time will come when we twenty-somethings will face our mortal ends. When that time comes, we shall hold our heads high and pronounce that our mountains have been conquered and that our struggles were worth the climb.

Think twice about clarinet lessons.

Driving across Memorial Bridge at 10 pm never gets old. The Potomac glistens under the pale moon on both sides, and the Lincoln Memorial glows majestically.

I was hoping for more solitude around the memorial, but crowds of tourists and locals alike were chattering, walking, sitting, picture-taking, and everything in between.

As I sit on the top of the marble steps, looking down at the pool reflecting the Washington Monument, I think to myself, there’s no better way to spend a precious Sunday night of a long weekend. Rain comes in droplets, but hell, that makes it even better. Thoughts and no-thoughts. One second, twelve-and-a-half thoughts rush through my clogged head. The next moment, I am blank, filled with nothing more than what’s in front of me, and the cool droplets gaining presence.

I walk away. Full. Content.

Life is perception. Faith is perception. Walking up the marble stairs, sitting atop the marble stairs, walking down the marble stairs, leaving it all behind.

Just perception.


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