John M. Kernochan


John Marshall Kernochan, the law professor, composer and music publisher who founded Columbia Law School’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts and whose pioneering work in intellectual property law helped spur stronger protections for artists, died on October 30, 2007 at his home in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He was 88, and died from complications suffered from a fall.

Kernochan, who published and encouraged such American composers as Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Ward, William Bergsma, Donald Waxman and Allen Shawn, became heavily involved while a professor at Columbia Law School as an advocate for artists’ intellectual property rights, and was among those who prodded the United States to amend its own copyright laws so the U.S. could become a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1989.

"Jack thought it was very important for the United States to become part of the world copyright community and recognize in our own laws some of the principles that European countries already had established,’’ said Adria C. Kaplan, the former executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts, which Kernochan established in 1986. "Jack was a leading copyright scholar and one of the most prominent Americans in the international copyright arena, as well as a wonderful human being.’’

Kernochan entered what some then considered a barren field of law and became a strong advocate for the rights of artists, musicians and writers well before the rise of the Internet drew renewed attention to the significance of copyright and intellectual property law. The Kernochan Center has encouraged the development of instruction at the Law School in topics such as intellectual property, copyright, trademarks, the regulation of electronic media, and problems arising from new communications technologies.

"John Kernochan was a joyful companion, a gracious and gentle man, a tireless and effective advocate for all creators of intellectual property and a visionary teacher whose influence, through his Columbia Law School students, will affect the rights of artists for generations into the future,’’ said Morton L. Janklow, a former Kernochan student who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1953 and went on to become a prominent literary agent.

Kernochan also developed the U.S. chapter of the Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale, originally created by Victor Hugo and others to press for international authors’ rights.

"Jack left an indelible mark on the field of intellectual property and, of course, on our Law School,’’ said Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer.

Kernochan, the Nash Professor Emeritus of Law, had two careers as a law professor. He focused initially on the law of legislation, training students how to write and interpret statutes. He directed Columbia’s Legislative Drafting Research Fund from 1952 to 1969, organizing projects and studies in witness immunity, financial protection against nuclear hazards, arms control and health and air pollution regulation.

"He was very influential in that field,’’ said Arthur Murphy, Columbia Law School’s Joseph Solomon Professor Emeritus in Wills, Trusts, and Estates. "There were a lot of people wandering around Congress who were Jack’s students.’’

Kernochan was also a member of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, which helped lead to women’s rights legislation in the late 1960s.

Murphy first met Kernochan during their initial week as first-year students in Columbia Law School’s Class of 1948. He said Kernochan had "a wonderful sense of humor,’’ and he was initially attracted to Kernochan’s "imaginative use of expletives.’’ Murphy recalled an evening in later years when they attended an opera in Manhattan. Kernochan, an avid theater fan, found the opera too pretentious and muttered some caustic asides that sent Murphy and others in their group into such fits of laughter they had to leave the theater.

Colleagues also appreciated his thoughtfulness. Jane Ginsburg, who Kernochan recruited to Columbia Law School, recalled that early on Kernochan exhibited distinctive academic generosity when the two collaborated on an article.

"Despite his entitlement by seniority and prestige to top billing, he insisted that the publication bear my name first,’’ Ginsburg wrote in a 1990 tribute to Kernochan in the Columbia-VLA Journal of Law and the Arts. "That kind of graciousness and modesty is typical of Jack, and may be all the more noteworthy for its too-infrequent absence from the academy,’’ wrote Ginsburg, now the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law.

"Professor Kernochan was a mentor that any student would be lucky to find once during their studies. Copyright law was his ideal discipline,’’ said Bob Shaye, founder of New Line Cinema and a Kernochan student in the early 1960s. "He was an aesthete, who published the music of Sibelius, a keen scholar who clearly grasped the nuance, and justice, of intellectual property law, a humanist in understanding how to encourage his students to digest and excel, and an all-around great guy who could joke with the wittiest, and observe with the most incisive. He meant a great deal to me, and he is sorely missed.’’

Tom Rothman, a chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment, the parent company of 20th Century Fox, is another former Kernochan student. "He was an inspiration - sharp of mind, quick of wit, bold of idea and, above all, kind of heart,’’ said Rothman, a 1980 Columbia Law School graduate. "The intellectual property bar, generations of Columbia Law students, and his family have lost a giant. Jack would have put it more simply: he was a hell of a guy.’’

Kernochan was born August 3, 1919, the only child of composer Marshall Kernochan and Caroline Rigney Hatch, a World War I nurse.

As editor of his high school yearbook at St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts, he produced memorable verses on that year’s graduates, which kicked off a lifelong pastime of writing doggerel verse and bawdy limericks. He also composed religious music. Four Christmas songs he wrote at 15 are still in print, though soon after adolescence he became a confirmed agnostic, sometimes claiming to be Druid.

After a year at Princeton, he dropped out to devote himself to composing. He studied under Howard Brockway, and spent a year visiting Finnish composer Jan Sibelius. Kernochan composed several choral and orchestral compositions, which were later recorded. He transferred to Harvard University, graduated in 1942, and married Adelaide Chatfield-Taylor, the daughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's assistant treasury secretary Wayne Chatfield-Taylor. She died in January of 2007.

When the U.S. entered World War II, he enlisted. On his way to his posting, he composed his best-known recorded song, “As I Go Riding By.”

During World War II, with the 76th Division in Northern Europe, Kernochan worked behind the lines to help direct attacks during the winter of 1944 and the spring of 1945. “Somewhere along the line, it was decided that Bronze Star medals should be dealt out liberally, and I was delegated to write some of the supporting citations,’’ he once wrote, illustrating his bent for self-deprecatory humor. "After I had done a few, I was told, 'Jack, you write these well. While you’re at it, write one for yourself.’’’

After the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill® to attend Columbia Law School. He graduated in 1948, and Columbia Professor Harry Jones persuaded him to join the law school faculty, where he served into his 70s.

When his father died in 1955, Kernochan took over his father’s music publishing company, Galaxy Music Corporation. He inspired a revival of English and Italian madrigals by publishing a series edited by the late Thurston Dart. He helped fund and produce some of the outstanding American operas of the 20th century, including Robert Ward’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Crucible” and Douglas Moore’s “Carrie Nation.”

An inveterate Francophile, Kernochan spent his sabbatical years in France, where he studied flute and off-color French argot. At home, at Columbia Law School and abroad, he routinely drafted people for impromptu madrigal singing sessions. A collection of his bawdy limericks and other verses, “Gardeyloo,” was published on the Web.