And I don’t even like Friday, since small businesses like mine acknowledge no weekends, and ethics never sleeps…
1. Loyalty Ethics. Joe Biden got knocked around in the debate this week for supporting Barack Obama’s policies. Joe remained steadfast, saying, “I was a little surprised at how much incoming there was about Barack, about the President. I’m proud of having served him. I’m proud of the job he did. I don’t think there’s anything he has to apologize for. He changed the dialogue, he changed the whole question, he changed what was going on. And the idea that somehow it’s comparable to what [ President Trump] is doing is absolutely bizarre.”
Obama, however, has been silent. Now talk-show host Jesse Kelly, among others, is questioning Obama’s loyalty, tweeting, “The silence from Barack Obama as his Vice President of eight years gets torn limb from limb on his behalf is fascinating. Not even a polite word of support. Either those two are really on the outs or Obama truly is a political machine with no sense of loyalty.”
Fair? I don’t think so. It is not appropriate for Obama to start playing favorites as this stage pf the nomination process. He may realize that being seen as having to come to Joe rescue might hurt more than help: can Biden stand up for himself, or can’t he? That doesn’t mean that Obama is not a political machine with no sense of loyalty; I suspect that he is, as most of our Presidents have been. I also suspect that Obama thought Biden was a dolt, which, as we know, he is.
2. NBA sexual exploitation/ virtue-signaling ethics. I don’t know what to make of this story. Maybe you can explain it. The Milwaukee Bucks are eliminating their traditional, all-female T&A sideline “dance team” and replacing them with a gender-inclusive dance team named the 414 Crew. (Wait: my Facebook friends are arguing that an all-female editorial board is still diverse! Why was this necessary?) From the Bucks brass: “We’re kind of constantly looking to evolve and broaden our reach and be as inclusive as we possibly can.” Oh. That’s funny, I assumed that scantily clad women moving provocatively was a crude way to please the NBA’s and NFL ‘s overwhelmingly male market. If teams finally recognize that these acts were demeaning to women, why not just eliminate them? Why does a pro-basketball team need “dancing, tumbling, break-dancing, tricking and other unique talents” on display during the game? Why not magic acts? Fire-eating?
3. Vigilante Ethics. The six-part Sundance Channel documentary “No One Saw a Thing,” reopens the controversy over the 1981 vigilante murder of Ken Rex McElroy in Skidmore, Missouri, current population 263. McElroy terrorized the town, setting fires, killing animals, and shooting people, but always avoiding punishment. After he was finally convicted of a killing and a judge inexplicably let him out on bail pending his appeal, the town held a meeting (including the local sheriff) and decided that McElroy “needed killing.” A group of citizens—the exact number is unknown, perhaps as many as 30—surrounded his car (McElroy’s wife was a passenger) and shot it and McElroy full of holes. No one was prosecuted. The guns and shells were all disposed of; no one would say they witnessed the event.
In the first episode of the series, there is general agreement that McElroy frightened everyone in the town and his presence had made life their unbearable. The residents felt their options were to move, submit to his abuse, or kill him.
They killed him. They regarded it then and now as self-defense. The thrust of the series is that this event essentially lay a curse on the town, poisoning its culture and causing the continuing string of violent crimes since the murder. I tend to view such situation through the Ethics Incompleteness Principle. Murder and vigilantism are absolutely wrong, except in certain rare circumstances that don’t fit neatly into any principle or rule. Then you have to move toward utilitarianism, and a case by case analysis.
4. More musical plagiarism weirdness: A jury ruled that pop star Katy Perry and her label Capitol Records owes Christian rapper Flame $2.78 million, and that $550,000 should come from the Perry. Her 2013 smash hit “Dark Horse” was found to have copied an older song by Flame (aka Marcus Gray), who alleged that it coppied not the melody, not the lyrics, but the beat from his 2009 song “Joyful Noise.” The federal jury decided on this week that the writers of “Dark Horse” (which sold more than 13 million copies) graced the stage of the Super Bowl halftime show, and was nominated for a Grammy did infringe on Flame’s track.
Throughout the 20th century, copyright lawyers and music creators agreed that copyright claims were valid for lyrics and melody, but not for abstract details like rhythm, beat, and tone. The “Blurred Lines” case forever changed the status quo when its court ordered the hit song’s writers to cough up $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s heirs for creating too similar of a “vibe” to Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”
“They’re trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone,” Perry’s lawyer Christine Lepera argued at the conclusion of the trial. That sounds about right. Rolling stone quotes Kenneth Freundlich, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, as noting that since “Blurred Lines,” there has been a noticeable increase “in calls to lawyers from clients along the lines of, ‘This sounds a little like this [other song]. What do you think?’” More from Rolling Stone:
Yet another major factor in the increase of copyright lawsuits is the fact that many plaintiffs nowadays are not artists themselves: they’re the heirs and family members of artists who’ve died or retired, with much to gain and nothing to lose. (Whereas an artist might have felt cagey about suing another artist because of reputation or potential retribution down the line, heirs who don’t work in the music business don’t share any of those constraints.) “Their interests have pushed courts to re-conceptualize the scope of copyright subject matter,” Buccafusco says.
He adds: “The world of musical composition is not that broad, and it’s certainly not that broad when it comes to things like bass lines. Most musicians are working in a finite innovation space. There are not a lot of sounds generally pleasing to people’s ears and not that many ways to say, ‘Love is a wonderful thing.’ Should they be financially on the hook for that?”