Monday, November 6, 2017

Happy Birthday to John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa was an internationally famous composer and conductor. He also was a copyright activist and was one of the founding members of ASCAP, along with Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, and Victor Herbert. In honor of his birthday today, here's a telegram he sent:


The  Chairman and Members of Congress, Committee on Patents, Washington, D.C.:

Earnestly request that the American composer receives full and adequate protection for the product of his brain; any legislation that does not give him absolute control of that he creates is a return to the usurpation of might and a check on the intellectual development of our country.


That telegram is just one small portion of the six-volume Legislative History of the 1909 Copyright Act (1976), available in HeinOnline's Intellectual Property Law Collection.

By the way, the reason we Sousa fans can sing "Happy Birthday" to JPS today (his 163nd birthday) is that a court ruled that the tune was in the public domain. See Ben Sisario, Details of 'Happy Birthday' Copyright Settlement Revealed, N.Y. Times, Feb. 9, 2016. There's a limit to the protection composers receive for the products of their brains.

black & white photo of Sousa next to cartoon of cake with candles

Graphic: photo of John Philip Sousa (circa 1900) from Library of Congress, with a little embellishment.

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