“Bang, Bang”

In my last post, I told the harrowing tale of a little lost uke and the odyssey of its nigh miraculous return. And I mentioned that, in what might have been our final performance together, the Guild baritone ukulele and I went out with a bang.

Above, is a recording of that bang. Specifically, Sonny Bono’s 1966 composition “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). The late Bono vox populi (R – CA) wrote the song for the second of Cher’s solo albums, The Sonny Side of Cher, though the version I know is the one Nancy Sinatra recorded, also in 1966, for her album How Does that Grab You? (This is the version that later turns up in Kill Bill.)

It’s a great song. And, once a semester, I foist it upon the students taking a writing class I teach centered around issues of intellectual property and public culture. I play it as musical accompaniment to an ungraded quiz on the specific uses of copyrighted material excluded by Section 106 of U.S. Code Title 17, California’s 44th district. As I ask in my intro to the quiz:

The controversial 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, sponsored by the late U.S. Representative — and one-time songwriting half of Sonny & Cher — added 20 years to the length of copyrights. Until Bono’s compositions and recordings begin reverting to the public domain in the 2060s, which of the following can I do without the explicit permission of his estate, according to the “exclusive rights” outlined in section 106 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17)?

Of course, as it turns out, not much.

NOTE ON THE RECORDING. This is not a live recording from the class in question. It was made when I was rehearsing the same song for the same quiz the previous semester on September 20, 2007. The recording was made using a Plantronics headphone mic hung from the fire extinguisher in the upstairs hallway of my house in Hyattsville, Maryland, recorded to the Roxio Easy Media Creator sound editor program. (This is really a program designed for minor editing of existing recordings for making home mixtapes — it offers single-track recording and some limited mastering effects.)

AND NOW…THE QUIZ

Take it if you dare. Again, the question is: which of the following things can I do with Bono’s music without anyone’s explicit permission? Note that the premise was to answer only with reference to section 106 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code), and without consideration of the exceptions outlined in some of the sections that immediately follow it. In other words, the question here isn’t what the law actually is. Rather, the question is what the law as written assumes as the default condition, the ideal working of copyrights for which exceptions need to be made to enable many of the everyday things we do.

So, can I…

  1. Make copies of my Sonny & Cher: In Case You’re in Love CD to sell at yard sales or to send to friends for Valentine’s Day.
  2. Rip my own back-up copy of the CD to carry with me on my MP3 player when I’m commuting.
  3. Let one of my friends borrow the original CD I purchased.
  4. Record a cover version of “I Got You Babe” with my band.
  5. Sample the oboe riff from “I Got You Babe” and record an original rap over a loop of the sample.
  6. Create a video montage of still photographs of my parents, using Sonny & Cher’s recording of “I Got You Babe” as the soundtrack, and post it to YouTube in time for their anniversary.
  7. Post a video of my friend and I wearing matching adidas tracksuits and lip syncing to “I Got You Babe” in his dorm room.
  8. Learn to play “The Beat Goes On” on ukulele and sing it at an open mic.
  9. Learn to play “The Beat Goes On” on ukulele and teach my 4-year-old daughter to sing the “la-dee-da-dee-dee” part at home.
  10. Whistle the chorus to “Baby Don’t Go” while I walk down the street
  11. Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” at a party
  12. Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” loud enough in my car for other people in traffic to hear.
  13. Make my MP3 of “Bang Bang” available on my computer to peer-to-peer file-sharing programs
  14. Perform “Bang Bang” in class in order to help illustrate a point about copyright laws.

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