“It was brand new, it was relatively unregulated, and it posed a mortal threat to the music business as it existed at that time, because it was making the product available for free to the public.” That sounds like a discussion of digital music, but it’s a comment on the introduction of radio in the early 20th century.
In this video, Gary A. Rosen, an intellectual property lawyer, explains that the radio industry made the same arguments as digital music providers in their similar battles with the music industry, nearly 100 years apart. 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 and the balance of power in Tin Pan Alley. Although Arnstein never won a case, author Gary A. Rosen shows that the decisions rendered ultimately defined some of the basic parameters of copyright law. Arnstein’s 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.
The music industry, radio in the 1920s, and the Internet today
Ira Arnstein and the origin of “Unfair to Genius”
Gary A. Rosen is the author of Unfair to Genius: The Strange and Litigious Career of Ira B. Arnstein. He 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.