cover image Unfair to Genius: The Strange and Litigious Career of Ira B. Arnstein

Unfair to Genius: The Strange and Litigious Career of Ira B. Arnstein

Gary Rosen. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-19-973348-4

If you think the current litigious climate around copyright is unprecedented, think again. In this deeply researched and detailed book, intellectual property lawyer Rosen tells the curious story of Ira B. Arnstein, a composer of modest talent who, with his career in a downward spiral, sued dozens of leading composers and publishers for stealing his works. He never won a single case, and his claims often reflected a man on the verge of madness. But in suing, Rosen notes, Arnstein laid the foundation for future, more worthy plaintiffs to prevail, and shifted the power in copyright from publishers to composers. “The claim that George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ was a subconscious plagiarism of the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’ might never have gone to trial,” Rosen writes, “without the legal foundation laid by Arnstein.” The book is not a quick read, and some may find the narrative dense at times. But Rosen paints a fascinating portrait of one of history’s most fertile creative eras—the rise of Tin Pan Alley, or the “Age of the Songwriter,” as Rosen calls it—and the book brims with history relevant to today’s disruptive technology climate, particularly ASCAP’s efforts to thwart the National Association of Broadcasters “campaign for free music” over that wondrous technology of Arnstein’s day: radio. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Sterling Lord Literistic. (June)