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Commentary > Wastler's Wanderings
A Jibjab showdown
Bush-Kerry parody draws the ire of the music publisher that owns the Guthrie song.
July 26, 2004: 11:54 AM EDT

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - With something as fun as a cartoon Bush and Kerry hurling musical epithets at one another, you knew lawyers would have to get involved.

And, unfortunately for, they have.

You know the Jibjab thing I'm talking about, right? The flash animation movie swirling around the Internet with President George Bush and Senator John Kerry singing to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

Bush: "You're a liberal sissy!"

Kerry: "You're a right wing nut job!"

Both: "This land will surely vote for me!"

The bit is hilarious. Unless you are The Richmond Organization, a music publisher that owns the copyright to Guthrie's tune through its Ludlow Music unit.

"This puts a completely different spin on the song," said Kathryn Ostien, director of copyright licensing for the publisher. "The damage to the song is huge."

TRO believes that the Jibjab creation threatens to corrupt Guthrie's classic -- an icon of Americana -- by tying it to a political joke; upon hearing the music people would think about the yucks, not Guthrie's unifying message. The publisher wants Jibjab to stop distribution of the flash movie.

Of course the creators behind Jibjab don't agree.

JibJab fun at song's expense?  
JibJab fun at song's expense?

"We consider it a case of political satire and parody and therefore entitled to the fair use exemption of the copyright act," said Jibjab attorney Ken Hertz.

So far there isn't a lot of money involved. The brothers who made the movie, Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, have been distributing it pretty much for free (a paid-download option was available, but abandoned as most folks went for the free-on-the-Internet route). But the two are getting a lot of media attention as more news organizations and talk shows feature the flash bit (I think CNN was first, by the way, when we featured it on "In The Money" in early July).

"We're just trying to catch our breath," said Gregg Spiridellis, before sending me on to his lawyer.

Right now lawyers for both sides are just hurling threatening letters at one another. If the dispute ends up in court, it'll be interesting.

TRO: "You've hurt our music!"

Jibjab: "You've got no humor!"

Both: "This judge will surely side with me!"  Top of page

Allen Wastler is managing editor for CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn.

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