“Publisher BMG has plunged itself into a copyright lawsuit with elements that are so bizarre it's hard to fathom what the company was thinking of. According to the complaint, BMG illegally used a song owned by religious group Watchtower in a for-profit Christmas album, featuring songs from other faiths, which are set to be sung in cathedrals. Needless to say, Jehovah's Witnesses are outraged.”
Well, I wouldn’t say that they were “outraged.” It takes a lot to outrage us. But we don’t do Christmas. And the songs aren’t for commercial use anyway. What in the world were they thinking?
The song is Listen, Obey, and be Blessed. Imagine—the friends hear the album, and there it is as one of the Christmas carols! From us, who don’t do Christmas! I don’t think so. It’s not their song. It’s our song. It is a song for what Witnesses see as pure worship. It is not to be sung by every interdenominational Tom Dick and Harry, each with his or her own peculiar notion of who God is and what he wants.
“Listen, obey, and be Blessed” as a interdenominational song? Obey what? Obey the religious call to give the election to Trump? Obey the religious call to promote choice (abortion)? Obey the religious call to defy authorities and pack out your church, Covid notwithstanding? Obey the religious call to protest the police? And suggest that you will be “blessed” regardless of who, how, what you obey? No way. Of course Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t like it. Of course they’ll take action to stop it. BMG should know better, dealing in copyrights the way they do. Make a buck on our song? No.
I’m not even sure why they would take that song, anyway. It is far from my favorite. It’s not one I would select if giving the public talk. The public speaker selects the opening song, and the WT study both begins and ends with one—3 in all. (Today the opening and closing songs were the same. Sometimes that happens. You can’t check every little detail.) I think there was a time I selected a song that had nothing to do with the talk, and I may have even said so. I selected it because I liked it. That song was—no, I won’t say— maybe BMG will grab that one, too.
During his lifetime, Theodor Geisel fiercely resisted offers to commercialize his creation—the Dr. Seuss characters. After his death, his wishes were discarded, and now those characters are everywhere, dressed up like puppets and written into any crass and sappy narrative.
His widow subsequently said, “If Ted could see this, he’d say, ‘I’m glad I’m dead.’”
In the Prince chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me, I wrote of how Prince tried to do that, with much better motive, but still he didn’t get away with it. The only backdrop one must have for this is that some doctor said that Prince died of ‘VIP syndrome’—that is, maybe his doctor was so awed by celebrity that he forgot to do his job, that he neglected to lay down the law for his famous patient:
“New to the faith, it didn’t take long before Prince cast his eye upon the Kingdom songs that are sung at each meeting’s beginning, midpoint, and end. Maybe he could – you know – spice them up a little. Remix a few. With the best of motives, he began doing just that. CDs were released and began to circulate among the friends. Whenever that sort of thing happens among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it happens fast, for every Witness knows every other Witness. The Governing Body caught wind of it. Would they be flattered that Prince stooped to iron the kinks out of their music, like Mozart repairing the little ditty his employer’s (another Prince!) house musician had composed? Would they be jellified with VIP syndrome? If the learned doctors had turned to mush, what chance had bumpkins like they?
“Prince is reworking our music, and rightly so!” Would they say that?
“They excoriated him: ‘Get your hands off those songs! Those aren’t your songs – they’re OUR songs! They’re not pop, they’re not rock, they’re not funk! They are KINGDOM SONGS! Do you know how to spell ‘copyright?!’ Touch them again and you’re toast!’
“Then they sent out letters to the congregations telling Witnesses not to play those CDs because they weren’t authorized. They managed to overcome their VIP syndrome pretty well, didn’t they? (Dr. Klitzman’s colleagues would have let Prince gown up and lend a hand in the operating room) They told him to keep his hands off their songs! Of course, they were nice about it – they always are. Their letter acknowledged his good intentions, but they laid down the law. I’ll bet Prince found it refreshing to be told off! What a change of pace from toadying doctors.”