Cautionary Tales: When The Law Protects Unethical Creeps


Two recent court rulings demonstrate how the law often cannot punish purely unethical conduct if it falls in the cracks of legal language and definitions. When that happens, however, it is incumbent upon the rest of the culture not to allow an Ethics Dunce, or worse,to escape without proper identification and condemnation.

Case A: Curtis Cearley

Director of technology services for the Fayette County (GA) school district.

Fayette County high school student Chelsea Chaney used her Facebook page to post a photo of herself wearing a bikini and standing next to a life-size cardboard cut-out of rapper Snoop Dogg holding a can of Blast, the caffeinated alcoholic beverage he promotes. Although it was posted for the student’s friends, Cearley saw it, and used the comely photo in a  presentation at a public forum on the risks of sharing potentially embarrassing personal information on social media. He also used her name, identifying Chaney at the forum which was attended by parents, faculty and  students who attended school with her. He never alerted her, or asked her permission to use her photo as a “Don’t be like Chelsea!” example. The forum was titled “Once It’s There, It’s There to Stay.”

Horrible. This is a pure Golden Rule violation by Cearley, unfair, cruel, thoughtless, mean and intentionally  harmful to a minor, no less: Continue reading

Here Is A Law Suit To Root For

birthdaycake1The continuing charging of licensing fees for commercial use of that most public of songs, “Happy Birthday,” has been an annoying anomaly for as long as I can remember. Why did TV families always sing some lame approximation or substitute when a character had a birthday? Just last week, I expressed my chagrin when Tom Selleck’s extended family on “Blue Bloods” brought out  granddad  Len Cariou’s birthday cake, blazing with candles, as they sang, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow!” Who sings that at a birthday party today? People who don’t want to be held up for the licensing rights for a song over a century old, that’s who. I believe the first time this issue imposed itself on my consciousness was when they sang some lame birthday song stand-in on “The Flintstones.”

Jennifer Nelson, a film-maker, has had enough. She was producing a documentary movie about the song, and naturally wanted it to be performed at one point in her film. Like many before her, she was told she would have to pay $1,500  via a licensing agreement with Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of the Warner Music Group, which acquired the rights to the song  in 1988.  Nelson’s company paid the fee and is now seeking certification for a class action law suit arguing that “Happy Birthday”  is in the public domain, and has been. Warner/Chappell collects about $2 million a year in licensing fees for it, and the suit seeks return of the  fees it collected over  the last four years. The lawsuit cites the research of Robert Brauneis, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and the author of a 68-page article titled “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song.” In the study, Professor Brauneis demonstrates, to his satisfaction at least, that the Hill sisters,  Mildred and Patty, wrote a song in the late 1800s with the same melody called “Good Morning to All.” Nobody is certain who wrote the lyrics referring to a birthday, but it was in popular use as early as 1911. Continue reading