Monday, July 13, 2015

In the Matter of Saggy

As a former intellectual property lawyer, my ears perked up when my children began a spirited debate -- in the backseat of the car -- about whether my daughter could "be" a "person" her brother invented.

In short, they were fighting over the rights to Old Man Saggy.

My son's frail, elderly alter ego is a beloved figure in our home.  His signature gesture is to stick out his elbows and perform a spry dance in which his upper body moves side to side and his feet shuffle in rhythm.  Because of this, I consider Old Man Saggy a throwback to the vaudeville age, full of twinkly reminiscences about the Ziegfeld Follies and the showgirl he married in a shotgun wedding.

But his main purpose around here is getting my son out of things.  As in: "I [Old Man Saggy] can't walk to the park with you.  I'm old and tired, and my legs are broken!"

Though occasionally annoyed by Old Man Saggy's infirmity, my daughter and I are quite fond of him.  Sometimes we make up songs about him, or indulge his terrible knock-knock jokes, or hang out with him until my son re-emerges to play Minecraft and wants us to scram.

So when my daughter found a plastic smoking pipe somewhere, she wanted in on the Old Man Saggy action.

"Old Man Saggy!" she sang in the backseat, waggling her elbows, with the pipe in her mouth. 

My son reacted with the speed and ferocity of the Disney Corporation's legal department.  Old Man Saggy was his!  She could not "be" him!  Only my son "was" Old Man Saggy!

Driving, I tried to recall the principles memorialized in the federal law of copyright.  Failing that, I made a judicious attempt to "split the baby" -- or rather, the Old Man. 

"How about you can sing about him, but you can't be him?"  I suggested.

"You can be Old Granny Saggy," my son chimed in.  "You have to be a girl!"

This was completely unacceptable.  How dare we insult her like this!  Old Granny Saggy?  She had the freaking pipe

It seemed to me she had a point.  "You really can't tell her who she can 'be' or not 'be,'" I informed my son.  "Just let her play the way she wants."

"But I invented him!" came the retort. 

Yeah.  I got that, too.  If, as a child, I had gone to the trouble to put on a purple beret, pencil a thin mustache over my lip, and make arrogant pronouncements in a French accent to create a character called Pierre, mostly to amuse my mother, not that I ever did this, and a younger sibling had tried to "be" Pierre, I would have been like: "Mom!!"

As I tried to recall the factors weighed in the "fair use" defense, we pulled into the driveway.  My son went inside while my daughter sat in the car, mulling her options. 

When she came in five minutes later, my son was in his room.  "Mom," she said, entering the kitchen.

With the pipe in her mouth, she crooked her elbows and did a little soft-shoe, singing: "Old Man Saggy!" 

"Wonderful!" I said. 

This seemed to mark the end, for now, of the Old Man Saggy debate.  A few minutes later, she came into the kitchen again, "making a call" on an old cell phone. 

"I have a friend who's a policeman.  Did you know that?" she piped up. "He's going into San Francisco, and I'm calling him to tell him there's a donut shop there that's open at night, Monday and Tuesday." 

(Image: Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse - Alexandria Va, by Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

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