So, why is one of the largest conglomerates in the world battling Keyes and his small Denton, Texas, band for copyright infringment? Time Warner's not saying ("we do not comment on ongoing litigation"), but its suit is apparently based on the belief that "riddle me this" is covered in its copyright on Batman, including the DC Comics series and the movies. (The fourth installment in the series, Batman & Robin, opened June 20 with a take of more than $40 million.)
In the 1995 Warner Bros. (a TW subsidiary) film Batman Forever, Jim Carrey's Riddler asks, "Riddle me this, riddle me that, who's afraid of the big, black bat?"
"They're going to claim copyright on three words out of a movie?" Keyes asks incredulously in between teaching guitar lessons to pay the rent while his six-year-old band struggles for notoriety.
Audio Clip: Riddle Me This, "Get to Know You"
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According to the Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the expression was first used by 17th-century English poet John Dryden who wrote "Riddle me this, and guess him if you can." In 1940, Oxford University Press published a children's book of word games called Riddle Me This, and in the '60s Batman TV show, the Riddler (played by Frank Gorshin) used the expression in his duels with the Caped Crusader.
Trouble for Keyes arose after Riddle Me This released its self-produced debut album, Merkin's Wig in 1995. After a copyright database search showed no one else owned the name, Keyes moved to claim it. Within weeks of filing, however, he got a letter from Time Warner's lawyers, and the battle was on.
Two weeks ago, Keyes filed for a summary judgment to get Time Warner's suit thrown out; the conglomerate counter-filed with a similar action.
"Basically, they're trying to bury me in paperwork and run me out of money," Keyes says. "We're not claiming to own the expression. We're just saying it's the name of our band." On the bright side, at least he didn't name his band "The Lost World."