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Intellectual property law might have gone in a very different direction if not for Judge Sol Kramer and his "Lighten the Fuck Up" rule. One shudders to think what the world would be like for creative people if this crusty New York jurist hadn't been sitting in the Southern District federal court, where a succession of copyright cases inevitably wound up in the '80s and early '90s. That rare lawyer who actually understood art and music, Judge Kramer created an intimidating series of precedents that shaped the course of U.S. artistic history. It's amusing to think back now at the judge's use of salty language in the courtroom as plaintiff after plaintiff made its case and came away disappointed. Of course, the written opinions that followed were exquisitely reasoned and delved deeply into the minutiae of the respective artworks, guided by the judge's strong and principled belief that, while these matters had to be taken on a case by case basis, creativity ultimately had to be protected from the drag of frivolous lawsuits. The following are some his jabs from the bench:
"Your honor, my clients Messrs. Kaylan and Volman, aka the Turtles, have been severely damaged by the indiscriminate sampling of their world famous string intro to the 60s hit 'You Showed Me,' in De La Soul's 'Live Transmission from Mars.'"
"Oh, lighten the fuck up. 'Live Transmission' is a one-off novelty song, hell, it's not even a song, it's a little ambient piece. Get out of my courtroom."
"Representing myself, your honor, I am appalled that Jeff Koons took my image 'String of Puppies' and made a sculpture out of it and I seek a milllion dollars in damages."
"Oh, lighten the fuck up. His work is in the museum and yours is in the museum shop. Not the same market at all. He did you a favor publicizing that sentimental fluff, you should thank him."
"'My Sweet Lord' uses the exact same melody
as 'He's So Fine.'"
"Yeah, but everything else about it is different. Lighten the fuck up."[More "lighten the fuck up" rulings will be added as I think of them. In reality, every one of these trivial nuisance suits was treated as a matter of grave importance by the courts and contributed to the awful muck that is copyright law today. The judge's description of the "String of Puppies" photo was softened even though I think the photographer was an ass for suing. I mean, he made an ordinarily uplifting photo and Koons ridiculed it all the way to the bank--just deal, sometimes things happen when you put sickly sweet crap out there in the world. --tm]