Thinking about monkeys and engineers and copyright

I just love this. First, take a folk song popular in the 1960s, written by someone born in 1896.

Once upon a time a engineer had a monkey and everywhere he go why he’d take the little monkey along and so the monkey would watch everything the engineer would do so one day the engineer had to go get him something to eat and so the monkey got tired of waiting so he thought he’d try out the throttle and down the road he went.

Once upon a time there was an engineer
Drove a locomotive both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey that sit on the stool
Watchin’ everything that the engineer move

One day the engineer wanted a bite to eat
He left the monkey settin’ on the driver’s seat
The monkey pulled the throttle, locomotive jumped the gun
And made ninety miles an hour on the main line run

Well the big locomotive just in time
The big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind

Engineer begin to call the dispatcher on the phone
Tell him all about how is locomotive was gone
Get on the wire, the dispatcher to write
Cause the monkey’s got the main line sewed up tight

Switch operator got the message in time
There’s a north bound limited on the same main line
Open the switch, gonna let him in the hole
Cause the monkey’s got the locomotive under control

Well the big locomotive right on time
Big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind
Left the engineer with a worried mind


It’s not just any old folk song, it’s a Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller song. [Do read about him, he’s a fascinating character].

Then, take that song and make it even more popular: make sure that the Grateful Dead play it regularly. In fact make sure they play it 31 times. For good measure, make sure that Bob Dylan also plays on it with them.

My thanks to dead.net for the wonderful photograph of Jerry above.

To make it a little more interesting, make sure someone, David Opie, writes an award-winning book about the song.

So now you have the song. The lyrics. The book. Some dead people. And some Dead people. And some alive people.  Make sure someone makes a video about the song/book/whatever it is by now. In fact go one better, make the video using Lego pieces.

Then get your children to draw what they see.

Song. Book. Video. A bit of Lego thrown in. More people involved than you can shake a stick at.

I think the Copyright Police should try and work stuff like this out every day. Because they’re going to have to.

7 thoughts on “Thinking about monkeys and engineers and copyright”

  1. When everything is online, it makes it easy to track, and to pursue, prosecute, demand payments, demand take-down. The good old analog world is far less DRM friendly :)

  2. If you haven’t already read it, you’ll probably be interested in chapter 6 “I’ve got a mashup” of James Boyles’ excellent “The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind”, see: http://yupnet.org/boyle/archives/130. In Boyles’ words:

    “This is the story of a song and of that song’s history. But it is also a story about property and race and art, about the way copyright law has shaped, encouraged, and prohibited music over the last hundred years, about the lines it draws, the boundaries it sets, and the art it forbids.”

    Actually the story is so good that it’s worth rereading if you have already read it.

  3. Here’s a question: With the inheritance tax, the government takes x% of the estate after a certain amount. Should the same apply to song rights? It’s an asset is it not? Also, given the above, how would you handle the works of Beethoven? A 5th of Beethoven made a big splash on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack…

Let me know what you think