Copyright laws change every time the limit runs out on Mickey Mouse but at least we can sing “Happy Birthday” now.

Listening to: Gustavo Dudamel and Yuja Wang slay a Rachmaninov Concerto
Watching: Masters of None

Back in the early 1990’s Louis C.K. did a comedy bit where he said if he was a billionaire he would do something crazy like go to a town like Portland and buy all of the pants. There would be a crisis and no one could buy pants. If you wanted pants you would have to go to him. He would be king of the pants.

“You want pants? You will come to me. I am the king of pants”.

Something like this (but very different) actually happened. Only it happened 420 years earlier and it didn’t involve pants or Portland. The year was 1575 and Queen Elizabeth, arguably the greatest of the monarchs just bestowed a very generous and unusual gift to Thomas Tallis and William Bird. For the next 21 years these two were given exclusive rights, an absolute monopoly for polyphonic music and a patent to print and publish music.


The patent was so protected that they were the only people allowed to use the paper that was used at that time to print music. What, what? You say. You read that right. If you wanted printed music of any kind, secular or religious, you had to go to them. Imagine that scenario in today’s world if only one musical artist or novelist were given exclusive rights to publish pop music or fiction. Thankfully the patent ended, because let’s face it English Cathedral Music of the mid-renaissance could really only swing so hard.

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