The publishers of the song seem to be completely ignorant of fair use doctrine. The jibjab creation is so obviously protected by fair use that it's totally ludicrous that anyone who knows anything about IP law would even consider a law suit against it.
Sounds like a classic case of lawyers who should know better, who probably do know better, but know they can clock in a few billable hours writing some scary letters that are totally without legal validity.
UPDATE, August 2: Today NPR's Neal Conan interviewed Arlo Guthrie, Woody's son, about the issue.
The new issue of Intelligent Agent, Vol. 4 No. 2, an online magazine edited by Patrick Lichty, features 2 interesting items dealing with intellectual property: an article by painter Joy Garnet, of Joywar fame, and a panel discussion including Lawrence Lessig.
An article in a back-issue of Friction Magazine has prompted this mention of the world of Fan Fiction.
Fan Fiction is writing based on popular media by fans of that media. It is often, technically, a violation of intellectual property laws, but many who do it or study it see it as a taking back of culture into the hands of the folk, in a world where increasingly our "myths" are owned by corporations.
Here are some pointers:
A group called The Wooster Collective makes great "street art," and their site is a great display of what many members do. Of course street art (stencils, stickers, grafitti, etc) is frequently an avenue for culture-jamming, parody, logo appropriation, and other forms of cultural recycling.
This is a totally incredible Flash animation that parodies Woody Guthrie's song "This Land," making great use of cut-and-paste appropriative techniques and making some powerful statements about the presidential campaign, while being really really funny at the same time.
People Like Us has released a new internet-only album called Abridged Too Far. The collection is work created via experimentation with or on radio. "This is not background music. It is engaging, inclusive and reflective."
Eric Eldred writes about his experience at Walden Pond Thursday, on the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's "Walden," when he parked his Internet Bookmobile and was letting people print out and take free copies of the public-domain book. He was asked to leave by the park rangers.
(via Rick Prelinger)