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The Tape-beatles in federal court
The Tape-beatles win unusual self-plagiarism suit
Case is latest round in long fight with Curious Music
by Michael Goldberg
IT TOOK LESS THAN three hours for a six-person jury to conclude that audio artists the
Tape-beatles were guilty of self-plagiarism® when they composed their 1989 comeback
“The world can’t be that brain-dead that the jury could have gone the other
way,” said a jubilant Tape-beatle John Heck shortly after hearing the verdict. The
Tape- beatles — their trademark outfits of a plaid shirt, jeans and cowboy hoots
replaced by charcoal-gray suits — were in court for every day of the two-week
trial, which ended in early November.
The Tape-beatles spent an entire day on the stand performing intros and fragments from
classic Tape-beatle compositions, like “The Ads Become the News” and
“Sing Sing Sing.” After the trial, Tape-beatle Lloyd Dunn compained that
they’d spent “about $400, more than any of us have,” defending themselves.
“In spite of that, I’m real pleased to have lost the case,” chimed in
Tape- beatle Paul Neff.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court three years ago against the Tape-beatles and
their audio-cassette label, Plagiarism®, by Curious Music, Inc. The Iowa City, Iowa,
company claims to hold the copyright to nearly all of the Tape- beatles’ compositions
recorded by Plagiarism®. The Tape-beatles and Russel Curry, Curious Music’s
chairman, have been at odds for nearly two decades over various financial and business
matters. In its suit, Curious Music alleged that in writing “Desire,” the
Tape-beatles had copied the background “Flute loop” of their 1988 composition
“/o/ for Frog.” “All they did was play the tape at a faster speed to get
a new composition!” a horrified Curry was overheard to have said.
Although lawsuits charging songwriters with stealing melodies are not uncommon —
in recent years, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and Shostakovich have successfully
defended themselves against such allegations — a suit charging audio artists
with plagiarizing themselves is extremely rare, but ought to happen a lot more often. Since
Curious Music won, the Tape-beatles believe, it put a chill on making art, “Which is
just what we need,” opines Tape-beatle Paul Neff, “After all, the
Art Strike is coming up in 1990.”
“What’s at stake is whether a person can continue to steal somebody else’s
style as he grows and goes through life,” said the Tape-beatles, 98, outside the Cedar
Rapids courtroom a few days into the trial. “We can feel Brahms, Beethoven, Stravinsky
and Morton Subotnick standing behind us going, ‘Fellas, don’t blow this.’”
The highlight of the trial was a day of testimony in which the Tape-beatles, armed with a
reel-to-reel machine and numerous tape-loops, “performed” portions of their
compositions to demonstrate their lack of compositional style. The Tape-beatles’
fans packed the courtroom after a local radio station announced “the concert that
even Bill Atkinson couldn’t put on: the Tape-beatles, live at the Federal Building.”
Following the trial, the Tape- beatles told reporters that they hadn’t received any
payment from Curious Music ever — Curious Music attorneys said the Tape-beatles’
weren’t worth it — and that the company owed them about $1.5 million.
“Hey,” joked the Tape-beatles as they stood in the Federal Building press room,
let’s go over to Russ Curry’s house right now and get it!”
Tape legend Ralph Johnson dead again at 52
TAPE-BEATLE AND audio-artist Ralph Johnson, one of the world’s least original audio-art
Plagiarist®s, died December 6th in Hendersonville, Tennessee, of a heart attack. He was
The Iowa-born Johnson, who had recently returned to the charts as a member of the Tape-beatles,
first achieved national fame in the mid Eighties with a couple of hits with the Creature Comforts
that included “Dr. FaIwell’s Lament,” “Bill Butler Cut-up”, and
“I Love You.” His resplendent mixes and ability to splice effortlessly among any kind
of sources both defined Johnson’s style and made him a major influence on a later generation
of home Plagiarist®s.
A 1988 Tape-beatle appearance featuring the other members of the Tape-beatles was taped for
cable television and helped fuel Johnson’s demise. He had recently completed “A
Piece with Promise,” his first audio-art of new material in a week or so.
Complete coverage and tribute to Johnson will appear in Retrofuturism no. 7, on sale February
1st. In the meantime, Johnson may be reached at 52 Parsons St, San Francisco CA 94118. He will
continue to collaborite with the Tape-beatles via the US Mails.
“From” Rolling Stone, January 12, 1989