Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lessons on Teaching Law and Creating a Legacy from Hamilton: An American Musical

With a Fourth of July post, I was inclined to write something patriotic and connected with our great nation and to law schools generally. As an unabashed and unapologetic fan of the Hamilton: An American Musical, a couple of analogies from this brilliant production seemed appropriate to convey my thoughts on law school and leaving a legacy.  

First, I think most of us who are fortunate enough to serve as law professors recognize the great gift we have to pursue our passion and to be part of educating the next generation of people who understand the rule of law and have the skills to protect the rights of individuals and groups. This is especially needed for those who are marginalized or under represented and thus less likely to be able to enforce their rights without the help of our legal system.  This is an incredible legacy in America, set in motion by some our nation's founders.  

Like John Adams defending British soldiers and Alexander Hamilton defending Loyalists after the war, lawyers (and law professors) do not need to compromise their own views to embrace the ideals they seek to uphold. We can vigorously maintain our personal views, while defending the rights of others to have their views.  As law professors, I think we generally do value and defend the rights of others who have differing views, but I also think we can do a better job ensuring that is the case (and that others know it).

To be effective, law professors must be engaged with their work, with their institution, and their students. This means, to me, engaging in scholarship, in some way, and sharing that work with the world.  As Alexander Hamilton tells Aaron Burr in The Room Where It Happens

“When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you…Wait for it, wait for it, wait!”

We need to part of the program. We need to engage and share our ideas. This doesn't mean being overtly political, and it doesn't necessarily mean being abrasive. But we must be invested in what we do, and we must be invested in how we do it. The passive teacher and scholar will likely have passive students, and we need to be educating lawyers to get in, get dirty, and keep learning.  We can't just tell them. To some degree we have to be the ones to show them how.

Second, as law professors who are committed to their profession, I think we need to be thinking about who we want to be as professors, including our desires for our legacy, early in our careers.  We need to think about what we want to be like as tenured professors before were are tenured.  And we need to think about where we hope to get as professionals, as teachers, and as scholars.  I think a lot faculty members (law and otherwise) get to a point where they aren't sure what it will mean to move on or how, and that makes it hard to stay engaged or focused because you don't have an idea of the end game. And that is linked, in part, to feeling like their legacy is incomplete.  That is understandable.   

Alexander Hamilton says, in the song, The World Was Wide Enough Legacy: 

"What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see."

And it's true. We rarely, if ever, will get to see our legacy, but we can know what we are trying to grow.  We each create our own legacy by the seeds we choose to plant.  And as professors, we plant those seeds in our students.  They go out and hopefully grow and flourish. And as part of a profession, those seeds are spread wider than just our students, as those new lawyers go out and interact with and work to protect others.  We must think carefully about what we are teaching about the profession that we helping to shape, whether or not we ever see it fully grown.  The world evolves and so must we, so that the seeds we plant, our legacy, is one that is worthy of this great, though greatly flawed, nation that got its start 241 years ago.  

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, let us celebrate the past while at the same time we think about the future.  This goes for both our teaching and for our nation overall.  Wishing you a happy and safe Fourth. 

July 4, 2017 in Current Affairs, Law School, Lawyering, Music, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Five "Best" Songs About Business (Law Edition)

It has been a crazy busy couple of weeks, and one thing I rely on the keep sane (or sane-ish) is music. This morning I was listening to the most recent Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs, which includes a song called "Corplantationopoly."  (The album is solid, and while it will never top Nation of Millions or Fear of a Black Planet, Chuck D is still powerful to hear.)  This got me to thinking about songs that reference business as part of their lyrics and/or theme.

With the availability of the internet, of course several such lists have already been compiled. Here is a sampling:

March 9, 2016 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, Music | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bowie Leaves Legacy of Music, Creativity in Talent and Finance

On Sunday, the world lost a musical giant in David Bowie, who died of cancer at 69.  He was the first artist who that made me a true music fan. Like buy all the records, read the biographies, hang-posters-on-the-wall type fan.  I grew up with a love for Motown music, especially Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, and the Four Tops, that I still have, but my appreciation for that music came from listening to my parent's records.

When it came time to choose my own artists, other kids were into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but Bowie emerged as my guy.  He was later followed by bands like R.E.M., the English Beat, and The Cure, among others, as I moved into more of the college radio scene, and I really liked Joan Jett, but Bowie was always The Guy.  My fandom started with an album I poached from my aunt, Heroes.  I also got ahold of David Live (1974), and then worked my way back before going forward.  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and Hunky Dory were the next to follow. I even own a copy of the Christmas record featuring David Bowie and Bing Crosby. 

Let's Dance came out in 1983.  It was a hit, and yet criticized for being too mainstream. I was twelve, and thought it was great.  I still do, though in a very different way than much of his other work.  The connected tour for the album, the Serious Moonlight Tour, featured Bowie in a bow tie.  I thought it was the coolest thing. I bought one and learned to tie it myself.  I still have the tie, and I wore it to teach my first Business Organizations class of the semester on Tuesday (and my Energy Business Law and Strategy course).  Contrary to what some want to believe now that E. Gordon Gee is the president of my institution, bowties originated with Bowie for me, not President Gee.  (And yes, it is likely that only a law professor could connect someone as cool as Bowie with bowties, and probably only this law professor.)

I write this as much for me, as anything, I suppose, but a few things about David Bowie strike me as relevant to this blog. First, he was always ahead of his time, looking for what was next. He didn't back down, he said what he thought in a strong, but usually respectful way.  He was, unfortunately, well ahead of his time in criticizing MTV for its lack of programing diversity. Not so much for calling them out -- others did that, too -- but in the way he did it, as you can see here.  

His eye for talent was remarkable, too.  David Sanborn played sax on David Live. Luther Vandross sang backup on Young Americans. Stevie Ray Vaughn played on Let's Dance, and Reeves Gabrels (now with The Cure) with Tin Machine. Adrian Belew played on Lodger.  Bowie, in turn, sang back up and played sax on Lou Reed's Transformer.  And his work with Iggy Pop, Queen, Tina Turner, Trent Reznor, and others crossed genres and time.   

Finally, he tried creative financial vehicles.  As one report explains, 

In 1997, Bowie, born David Robert Jones, securitized revenue from 25 albums (287 songs) released before 1990. At the same time, he swapped distribution rights on his back catalogue for a $30 million advance on future royalties in a deal with EMI. The 10-year “Bowie Bond” he created with banker David Pullman promised a 7.9% return and raised $55 million, along with a media frenzy. A flurry of other artists followed, but the Bowie Bonds skidded toward junk status by 2004, downgraded by Moody’s from A3 to Baa3.

The trend never really took off, though. Despite never missing a payment, the bonds did not do well, though that did not appear to hurt Bowie.  People got worried about online music sharing soon after the deal was struck.  Still, the idea of monetizing intangible assets, was rather forward looking, even if some believe that loans, and not bonds, are the better suited to assets like music. For Bowie, in music and otherwise, new things were worth trying, even if they didn't always go as planned. I still wished I'd gotten in on that deal, regardless.  I always felt like I missed out. 

I know Bowie is something of an acquired taste for some (and an unacquirable one for others), but the outpouring of support following his death shows a tremendous amount of respect and admiration.  He may even get his first U.S. number one album with his Blackstar album, which was recently released. Some believe the track Lazarus and the related video were his goodbye to the world.  It's hard to argue it's not.    

He will be missed, but I'm glad his legacy provides such a tremendous body work. I think the Sirius/XM Bowie channel should be permanent, and not just a limited-run engagement.

As I write this, I got a notice that Alan Rickman, also 69, has died of cancer. Cancer sucks.  As David Bowie noted in this short, but poignant, interview from 2002, "Life is a finite thing."  It sure is. 

January 14, 2016 in Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So Happy Together?! Me and You and Intellectual Property Law Reform

The Turtles continue to have salience in the music world.  Now, they also are a "happening thing" in legal circles.  Two recently published law review articles take on an interesting issue in copyright law relating to pre-1972 sound recordings that has been the subject of legal actions brought by members of The Turtles.  The articles (both of which use the song Happy Together, a Turtles favorite, in their titles) are authored by my University of Tennessee College of Law colleague, Gary Pulsinelli, and Georgetown University Law Center Professor Julie L. Ross.  

In his abstract, Gary summarizes the problem as follows:

Federal copyright law provides a digital performance right that allows owners of sound recordings to receive royalties when their works are transmitted over the Internet or via satellite radio. However, this federal protection does not extend to pre-1972 sound recordings, which are excluded from the federal copyright system and instead left to the protections of state law. No state law explicitly provides protection for any type of transmission, a situation the owners of pre-1972 sound recordings find lamentable. These owners are therefore attempting to achieve such protection by various means. . . . 

He concludes:

[S]tate law cannot provide the remedy that the owners of pre-1972 sound recordings seek. Their concerns, however, should not be dismissed. The exclusion of pre-1972 sound recordings from the federal system does deprive the owners of such recordings of royalties received by similarly situated owners whose recordings happen to have been made after that date. Because state law cannot remedy the problem, federal law must. Pre-1972 sound recordings should be brought into the federal system, on essentially the same terms as other works from the same era that are already protected by federal copyright.

Professor Ross reaches the same conclusion, as summarized in her abstract:

[G]iven the delicate balancing that has gone into Congress’ recognition of a limited digital performance right and creation of a compulsory statutory licensing system, any remedy for the inequity to owners of pre-1972 sound recordings must be left to Congress. Allowing individual courts in individual states to craft a patchwork of inconsistent remedies would disrupt the balance struck by Congress and interfere with the functioning of the compulsory license system for digital sound recording performances. This is a result that the Supremacy Clause does not permit.

Last week, I posted on federal securities law reform.  It looks like federal copyright law also is in need of some fixing . . . .  However, the copyright issue addressed in these two papers seems like an easy one to fix efficiently and effectively, unlike some of the federal securities law issues on the current reform agenda.  Regardless, I'll raise three cheers to fixing what's legally broken in the most efficacious way!

Imagine how the world could be
So very fine
So happy together . . . .

June 24, 2015 in Joan Heminway, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)