Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Irving Brecher 1914-2008 - Writer and Fighter

A great behind the scenes figure in American film and TV has died at the age of 94. According to the New York Times:

Irving Brecher was born in the Bronx on Jan. 17, 1914, and he grew up in Yonkers. At 19, after a brief stint covering high school sports for a local newspaper, he took a job as an usher and ticket taker at a Manhattan movie theater, where he learned from a critic for Variety that he could earn money writing jokes for comedians. Knowing of Milton Berle’s reputation as joke-pilferer, he placed an ad in Variety, reading, in part: “Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them.”
He worked with Groucho Marx, Milton Berle, Judy Garland and many other legendary figures.

Brecher was a fighter for writers, and was active even at the age of 93 in the writers' strike of 2007.

This is the kind of person that the copyright system needs to protect. The American system is amongst the worst in the world in this respect, with its notorious "work for hire" doctrine that essentially deprives many creators in the film and television industry of their full copyright entitlement by deeming the employer, and not the employee, to be the author - even if that person is a freelancer. Naturally, most writers in Hollywood, New York and elsewhere in the USA don't have the bargaining clout to get past the definition of "work for hire" in Section 101 of the US Act.

A few years ago, the RIAA succeeded in sneaking though an amendment that would have dragged sound recordings into this definition. According to a 2000 Salon aricle:

Last November, acting at the RIAA's request, Mitch Glazier, then chief counsel for Congress' copyright subcommittee, inserted the "sound recording" amendment to an unrelated bill. (The bill in question, the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, had been green-lighted for safe passage through Congress.) The change effectively made all new commercial cassettes and CDs -- from Britney Spears to Slipknot, from Eminem to Andrea Bocelli -- a new category qualifying as work for hire.

No hearings were held, no public debate took place and no member of Congress sponsored the act. Glazier, who now works for the RIAA, consulted only a handful of congressional assistants last fall. He was able to make the change because he explained the alteration was non-controversial and technical in nature.

The the credit of the American system, but not the RIAA, the amendment was quickly repealed when people found out what had happened.

But back to Mr. Brecher. A fascinating figure from a bygone and much more creative era has passed away. May his memory be a blessing.


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