April 12, 2007

Dylan Hears A Who [9:23 pm]

Tangled up in Seuss

If you missed his star turn, here’s what happened: Ryan, a 33-year-old Houston music producer and author, went into his home studio and engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss.

Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title “Dylan Hears a Who.”

[...] Then Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the La Jolla, Calif., firm that publishes the works of the late Theodor Geisel, heard “Dylan Hears a Who.” Only two weeks after word of the site began spreading, Ryan got a cease-and-desist demand from the Seuss lawyers, who said the site and songs infringed the company’s copyrights and trademarks. Ryan complied quickly and quietly. Instead of the Dylan/Seuss tracks, visitors to dylanhearsawho.com find a brief message saying the site has been “retired” at the request of Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

If you were caught up in the momentary wonder of how someone could execute such an ingeniously perfect blending of period musical style, ’60s attitude and loopy storytelling, it was tempting to see all of this as just another case of a heavy-handed corporate copyright holder — a master of copyright war, to call on the old Dylan oeuvre — sticking it to the little guy.

[...] Ryan himself — speaking, of course, after he heard from Seuss’ lawyers — seems to confirm Rothman’s judgment when he wrote in an online forum that “Dylan Hears a Who” was merely “a fun little project.” Having fun doesn’t make it impossible to produce parody, but to have a ghost of a chance of prevailing in a fair-use dispute, you need some serious justification and the ability to demonstrate it. In a sense, Ryan undid his most serious defense by admitting he used someone else’s protected material just for fun.

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