Synopses & Reviews
The long and tortured career of Ira B. Arnstein, the unrivaled "king of copyright infringement plaintiffs," opens a curious window into the evolution of copyright law in the United States. As Gary A. Rosen shows in this frequently funny and always entertaining history, the litigious Arnstein unwittingly transformed not just copyright, but American popular music itself.
A youthful prodigy in the late nineteenth century, Arnstein performed at the famous 1893 "White City" exhibition in Chicago. By the 1920s, he was a moderately successful songwriter and performer in New York, but beginning in 1928, his career entered a steep descent, and he was reduced to near-penury. Embittered, he became convinced that other artists were making fortunes off of his material, and so began a quixotic two-decade campaign to sue each and every one of them. While Arnstein failed in every case, Rosen shows that the decisions rendered--often by the famous jurist Learned B. Hand--ultimately defined some of the basic parameters of modern copyright law. The final case that he lost, against a bewildered Cole Porter, was the most consequential: Arnstein v. Porter. Successful suits against George Harrison, Led Zeppelin, and others for plagiarism owe a great deal to this decision and to Arnstein's relentless efforts over the years.
Although the book focuses on Ira Arnstein, Rosen alternates the story of Arnstein's career with a fascinating account of the period between the Tin-Pan-Alley and rock-and-roll eras, a period when Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and many others wrote songs that would become classics. Just as important, changes in copyright law shifted the balance of power from music publishing companies to writers and performers, a revolution that occurred in no small part because of Arnstein.
"If you think the current litigious climate around copyright is unprecedented, think again. In this deeply researched and detailed book, intellectual property lawyer Rosen tells the curious story of Ira B. Arnstein, a composer of modest talent who, with his career in a downward spiral, sued dozens of leading composers and publishers for stealing his works. He never won a single case, and his claims often reflected a man on the verge of madness. But in suing, Rosen notes, Arnstein laid the foundation for future, more worthy plaintiffs to prevail, and shifted the power in copyright from publishers to composers. 'The claim that George Harrison's Ã¢Â€Â˜My Sweet Lord' was a subconscious plagiarism of the Chiffons' Ã¢Â€Â˜He's So Fine' might never have gone to trial,' Rosen writes, 'without the legal foundation laid by Arnstein.' The book is not a quick read, and some may find the narrative dense at times. But Rosen paints a fascinating portrait of one of history's most fertile creative eras the rise of Tin Pan Alley, or the 'Age of the Songwriter,' as Rosen calls it and the book brims with history relevant to today's disruptive technology climate, particularly ASCAP's efforts to thwart the National Association of Broadcasters 'campaign for free music' over that wondrous technology of Arnstein's day: radio. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Sterling Lord Literistic. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Rosen paints a fascinating portrait of one of history's most fertile creative eras - the rise of Tin Pan Alley, or the "Age of the Songwriter," as Rosen calls it - and the book brims with history relevant to today's disruptive technology climate." -- Publishers Weekly
"This is an amazing intertwined tale of Tin Pan Alley, a series of courtroom showdowns, and the changing nature of commercial creativity through the 20th century. Rosen has done us all a great favor by unearthing the story and writing about it so well." --Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything
"Unfair to Genius is a lively, learned, and illuminating look at American popular music, from the Tin Pan Alley era to the advent of rock 'n' roll, through the lens of one of its quirkiest denizens."--Philip Furia, author of The Poets of Tin Pan Alley and Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist
"Exhaustively researched, this multi-layered tale of the economic, cultural and legal forces that forever changed the institutions of American popular music is both immensely readable and thoroughly engaging. It is a gem of a book."-Paul Goldstein, Lillick Professor of Law, Stanford University
"Everyone interested in how the law and entertainment intersect should read this story of the original copyright troll." --Adrian Johns, author of Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates
"Entertaining and instructive...the improbable leap from high opera to low vaudeville suggests the fun to be found in "Unfair to Genius" as it leavens legal history with showbiz anecdote, and insight with amusement." -Wall Street Journal
"Unfair to Genius is a superbly researched and written account of the Tin Pan Alley era of pop music and the peculiar career of one Ira Arnstein, who started with tons of talent and ambition but ended up as a reviled eccentric who pathologically sued big-name songwriters for imagined copyright infringement. Author Gary Rosen, an intellectual-property lawyer, deftly plots the rise of the music industry in America, keying in on such famous-long-ago figures as cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, "the Jewish Caruso," who became a mainstream star without particularly trying to." -Forbes
The long and tortured career of Ira B. Arnstein, "the unrivaled king of copyright infringement plaintiffs," opens a curious window into the evolution of copyright law in the United States. As Gary A. Rosen shows in this frequently funny and always entertaining history, the litigious Arnstein was a trenchant observer and most improbable participant in the transformation of not just copyright, but of American popular music itself.
A musical prodigy in the late nineteenth century, Arnstein performed as a boy soprano at the famous 1893 "White City" exhibition in Chicago. He grew up to be a composer of moderate accomplishment, but by the mid-1920s his fortunes had reversed in the face of changing tastes and times. Embittered and confused, he became convinced that he was the victim of a conspiracy to steal his music and set out on a three-decade-long campaign to prove it, suing most of the major players in the popular music industry of his day.
Although Arnstein never won a case, Rosen shows that the decisions rendered ultimately defined some of the basic parameters of copyright law. His most consequential case, against a dumbfounded Cole Porter, established precedents that have provided the foundation for successful suits against George Harrison, Michael Bolton, and many others.
Unfair to Genius alternates the stories of Arnstein and a colorful cast of supporting characters with a fascinating account of the economic, technological, and legal forces of the first half of the twentieth century that shifted the balance of power from the mercenary music publishers of Tin Pan Alley to the composers and lyricists who wrote the Great American Songbook.
About the Author
Gary A. Rosen
has practiced intellectual property law for more than 25 years. Before entering private practice, he served as a law clerk to federal appellate judge and award-winning legal historian A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. He lives outside Philadelphia.
Table of Contents
PART I: HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN
1. Loony Tunes, Schmaltzy Melodies
2. A Mother's Prayer
3. Soldiers of Zion
4. Unmoved Mover of Melody
5. Arranger on a Train
PART II: YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS
6. The Tune Detective
7. Song-Lifting Trial Goes into Agitato
8. Justice for Genius
9. My Beer is a Shame
PART III: DON'T FENCE ME IN
10. Bad Music Instead
11. Gift for a President Turned into Song to a Cow
12. Four Last Songs
Acknowledgments and Credits