Popular Music and Copyright Law in the Age of the Songwriter

Reviews & Media

Unfair to Genius is quoted in the June 5, 2023 issue of The New Yorker, The Case For and Against Ed Sheeran.”

Watch Gary’s 3/24/22 presentation to America’s oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, here.

Gary Appeared on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on 7/3/18 to Discuss “Irving Berlin-Immigrant, Patriot, Songsmith.” Click here to listen to the podcast.

Gary’s 4/5/15 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed “Tuning Music Royalties to the Times” is here.  He discussed it on Fox Business Network’s “Risk and Reward” here.

Click here to listen to Gary’s 7/31/12 appearance on Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720, WGN-Chicago.

Gary spoke to Sean Moncrieff of Talk Radio Ireland on 9/13/12:  Part I    Part II

Gary’s guest blog for Oxford University Press commemorating the 100th anniversary of America’s first music performing rights organization can be found here.

WRTI Philadelphia’s Meridee Duddleston spoke to Gary about copyright law, radio and popular music on 1/9/13.  Excerpts of the interview are here.

Gary’s Spotify playlist of 15 standards accused of copyright infringement by Arnstein is at OUP Blog.

Rosen paints a fascinating portrait of one of history’s most fertile creative eras – the rise of Tin Pan Alley, or the ‘Age of the Songwriter,’ as Rosen calls it – and the book brims with history relevant to today’s disruptive technology climate.

Publishers Weekly

“Rosen’s cast of characters, which sprawls from the bench to business to the boards, contains some real corkers. . . . There’s fun to be found in ‘Unfair to Genius’ as it leavens legal history with showbiz anecdote, and insight with amusement.”

Ken Emerson, The Wall Street Journal 

“A reader of Rosen’s book may feel a little uncertain how to allocate his attention: Arnstein, the ostensible foreground, is quite often less interesting than the background, the changes in copyright law and the music business in the early twentieth century. Those changes were epochal, after all, and they invite comparisons with the radical shifts we’re living through today.”

– Caleb Crain, The Nation

“Scholarly, scrupulous, but very entertaining . . . the best and clearest analysis I’ve encountered of the economics of 20th-century popular songwriting.”

– Ben Yagoda, The Wall Street Journal

“Rosen, an intellectual property lawyer, unpacks the bizarre life of a New Yorker who spent more time suing than composing . . . But Mr. Arnstein, in his own bizarre way, also helped shape American copyright law, mostly through all those rulings against him. Fittingly, this book is not so much a biography, Mr. Rosen writes, as ‘a narrative romp across six decades of understudied legal and cultural history.’” 

Sam Roberts, The New York Times

“A superbly researched and written account of the Tin Pan Alley era of pop music and the peculiar career of one Ira Arnstein, who started with tons of talent and ambition but ended up as a reviled eccentric who pathologically sued big-name songwriters for imagined copyright infringement. Author Gary Rosen, an intellectual-property lawyer, deftly plots the rise of the music industry in America.”


The verdict: A good read — an opportunity to learn about the struggles of the music publishing industry and other participants in the entertainment industries as they try to deal with rapidly changing technologies, and the accompanying legal and economic issues no one anticipated.”

New York Public Library Blog

“Rosen’s book is humorous, direct, at times crass, but most definitely entertaining. Those studying copyright law or considering entering into the intellectual property legal world should pull up a chair and read Rosen’s book.”

 Law and Politics Book Review

“The Cole Porter case is the show-stopper of Rosen’s book; it led to a Second Circuit ruling still used by the courts to determine whether there’s been a copyright infringement. Was a pious song of Arnstein’s degraded into, as Arnstein put it, ‘a song to a cow,’ namely, Porters ‘Don’t Fence Me In’?”

Caleb Crain, Steamboats are Ruining Everything Blog

A sympathetic and engaging presentation about the life of a man whom you would not want as a client, as an opponent or as a relative . . . . Rosen provides an excellent introduction to Arnstein v. Porter, to the precedents and to the dispute’s significance for contemporary litigation.”

— Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Feb. 2014)

“A playful romp through pop music history that reveals the sad and twisted tale of the most prolific and least successful copyright plaintiff in history . . . In the hands of a capable storyteller, this fertile history comes to life, revealing the individual personalities behind the events and court decisions and illuminating the broader cultural and technological forces that drove the music business in the first half of the 20th century.”

Chicago Lawyer

“The book is a remarkable psychological study of a perennial litigant.  Rosen brings Arnstein to life and humanizes him so that the reader feels for him and understands his Quixotic quest for recognition.”

Boston College Legal Eagle Blog 

“I have yet to read a better account of the music business in early 20th century.”

Music and Law Blog

“Rosen’s detailed history also illuminates the music industry and how its components utilized litigation, lobbying, legislation, and public relations seeking to define ‘the public interest’ while enriching their own sector.”

Illinois State Bar Intellectual Property Newsletter

This is an amazing intertwined tale of Tin Pan Alley, a series of courtroom showdowns, and the changing nature of commercial creativity through the 20th century. Rosen has done us all a great favor by unearthing the story and writing about it so well.

–Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything

Unfair to Genius is a lively, learned, and illuminating look at American popular music, from the Tin Pan Alley era to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, through the lens of one of its quirkiest denizens.

–Philip Furia, author of The Poets of Tin Pan Alley and Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist

Exhaustively researched, this multi-layered tale of the economic, cultural and legal forces that forever changed the institutions of American popular music is both immensely readable and thoroughly engaging. It is a gem of a book.

–Paul Goldstein, Lillick Professor of Law, Stanford University

Ira Arnstein was a one-man copyright plague on mid-twentieth-century America’s music industry. . .  Cutting through the myths, Rosen reveals that his quixotic crusade actually shaped how copyright would mold and constrain the music business to this day.  Everyone interested in how the law and entertainment intersect should read this story of the original copyright troll.”

–Adrian Johns, author of Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates

In his entertaining book, Rosen uses Arnstein’s tortured saga to explore the evolution of copyright law along with the history of popular music production and promotion from Tin Pan Alley to the beginning of rock’n’roll.”

Haverford Magazine