Was Johnny Cash a Law Professor?

johnny-cash-01.jpgI have posted before about the music of the law. Of late I have been prepping and researching to the music of Johnny Cash, and I wonder if perhaps his songs were meant as law-exam issue spotters. Here are two examples. First, in the “The Boy Named Sue,” Cash tells the story of a man who tried to kill his father for naming him “Sue,” a sobriquet that apparently resulted in a life time of torment. Suppose, however, that the boy named Sue, rather than trying to kill his father in a honky-tonk brawl had instituted a law suit. Is there a cause of action for tortious naming?

Second, in “One Piece at a Time,” Cash tells the story of a factory worker who over the course of two decades steals a Cadillac piece by piece by piece from the factory. He and his friends then assemble the car, which proves difficult due to the constant evolution of car models. (There is no doubt some point about planned obsolesce in here as well.) He then sings:

About that time my wife walked out

And I could see in her eyes that she had her doubts

But she opened the door and said “Honey, take me for a spin.”

So we drove up town just to get the tags

And I headed her right on down main drag

I could hear everybody laughin’ for blocks around

But up there at the court house they didn’t laugh

‘Cause to type it up it took the whole staff

And when they got through the title weighed sixty pounds.

How exactly did he get title to the car? More importantly, what crime — if any — is he guilty of. The parts for the car were taken over a period from 1949 to 1973. How many larcenies have there been here? To the extent that the crime depends on the value of the item taken, should defense counsel argue that there is a single crime or hundreds of crime committed seriatim. (Can he avoid any under the statute of limitations?) What of special crimes dealing specifically with cars. Is it grand theft auto if you take it one piece at a time?

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5 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    re the Car of Neurath: You might be interested in Justin Hughes’ work on “Microworks” in copyright. IP owners want copyright not just in works, but in fragments of works. (Or, more precisely, they want to characterize microworks as derivative works entitled to the same amount of copyright protection as the main work).

    As for the Boy Named Sue: perhaps a “wrongful naming” cause of action?

  2. Chad Oldfather says:

    And then there’s the conundrum of ending up in Folsom – a California state prison, if I’m not mistaken – for shooting a man in Reno …

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    Is it grand theft auto if you take it one piece at a time?

    Sounds like the criminal law version of Theseus’s ship.

  4. Cash Disciple says:

    In “Long Black Veil” our protagonist goes to the gallows rather than answer the judge’s request for an alibi at his murder trial (he had been in the arms of his best friend’s wife, of course).

    If only he had appealed the violation of his Fifth Amendment rights…

  5. erasmus says:

    …and there’s “i hung my head.” a man accidentally shoots a lone rider, and then is eventually hung. there’s an iteresting play on words that causes one to wonder whether punishment such as hanging was a proper end for the killer, despite the accident.