Posts Tagged ‘Copyright Infringement’

Down Under Copyright Infringement

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by

On my commute to work this morning, over the din of chattering businesspeople and the train whizzing through the tunnel, I heard a man listening, and pleasantly bopping along, to Men at Work’s “Down Under.” Initially, I felt like bopping right along with him, that familiar, infectious rhythm making me smile despite myself. After a couple stops, it got me thinking about the lawsuit brought against the band in 2009 for allegedly using several bars of the Australian folklore song “The Kookaburra Song” in the melody of their international pop hit without permission. Never a missed chance to ruminate on copyright infringement!

The music industry is replete with these sorts of hairsplitting accusations that dominate the world of rights and permissions, a vital part of any creative endeavor.

When Lady Gaga released her highly anticipated single “Born This Way” from her most recent album of the same name in February, the crowd went wild. The internet was inundated with people wanting to give their thoughts on the pop maven’s newest musical venture – they loved it, hated it, idolized her, thought she had gone too far. The most echoed of the voices, though, was the claim that the song copied its melodic structure from reigning pop queen Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Critics had a field day with this. Suddenly everyone was listening to the two songs back to back to see if they could spot the similarities. After giving both songs a very thorough listen, I have to say, I have a clear favorite, but I also can’t quite make out the supposed rip off. Gaga agrees.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check them out for yourself and see if you can find merit to this allegation littering the web.

Madonna – “Express Yourself”
Lady Gaga – “Born This Way”

So what does Madonna have to say about all of this? After all, she and co-writer/producer Stephen Bray do hold the copyright for the iconic anthem released in 1989. Do they feel their artistic integrity and legal rights have been infringed upon? At this point, it’s hard to say. CNN reported shortly after the release of Lady Gaga’s contentious single that though Gaga told Jay Leno she received an email from Madonna’s representatives sending along the pop veteran’s love and support, those same reps claimed to have never told Gaga anything. The world may never know.

This brings up an interesting question of the difference between simply using someone else’s work as inspiration while making nods to their style and downright copying. Critics find Cee Lo Green’s “Bright Lights Bigger City” to be reminiscent of the much-beloved “Billie Jean,” something which doesn’t seem to bother the fans at all. In fact, sampling of beats, loops, and whole sections of other artists’ songs has been a popular form of music creation for decades. Take a look at Gregg Michael Gillis, better known by his stage name Girl Talk. He’s made an entire career out of doing just that. (One of the oldest songs using this mashup style was recorded in 1956 by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman, then known as “break-in,” a hilarious predecessor to the now insanely popular music genre.)

The real question here is: is all of this legal? And if it is, should it not be?

Girl Talk’s label Illegal Art assures that the musician is operating fully within his rights under a Creative Commons license, and even provides an exhaustive list of all the songs, and their respective artists, sampled in his latest album on their website.

Men At Work, however, were not quite as lucky. Larrkin Music Publishing, who owns the rights to “The Kookaburra Song” filed suit against Ron Strykert and Colin Hay, the two Men At Work who wrote the song, as well as their former record label. The men were said to have reproduced a “substantial portion” of the old folklore song, and had thus infringed upon Larrkin’s executive rights. After a lengthy appeals process, Larrkin eventually won out on the grounds that the 1981 hit did, in fact, reproduce a noticeable part of the old song, which I believe to be the right decision. Take a listen and see.

“The Kookaburra Song”
Men At Work – “Down Under”

That offending flute, which is so recognizable in the unofficial Australian anthem, clearly plays out the melody of this childhood tune.

I’m all for artistic interpretation and using great works that came before you as inspiration for your own form of expression, but does that mean we should do away with copyrights altogether? Do they stifle creativity?

I think quite the opposite, actually. Copyrights allow for the people who spent the time, energy and mind power on an original project to receive the acknowledgement (and compensation) for their work, especially if it’s benefiting the population enough to warrant imitation.

Yes, You’re Able To, But Should You?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by

(First video in an ongoing humorous series about copyright law.)

As hard as it is to believe, we have actually heard these kinds of false statements about copyright, as repeated here by the male voice. Not just in private conversations, but in public forums when copyright issues are raised. And not just on the street corner or local pub, but in professional association meetings. Part of it is what we like to call hopeful ignorance, as in, “If I hope I don’t have to pay anyone to use their work then I can probably find a reason that supports that hope.” We’re not sure where some of these ideas started; if anyone has a clue, we’d love to know where you think these ideas came about.

Now, these kinds of statements are not just for the uninitiated (i.e. rookie mistakes). We’ve heard some veterans utter these claims, mostly to put off copyright holders who’ve caught them red handed. The most recent being the now infamous “Cooks Source” editor.

We thought it would be helpful to deal with this shockingly common situation in a humorous way, in the hopes that people would pass it along, thereby reaching a wider audience of viewers and helping to dispel the bad notions. Oh and don’t worry, we’ve got some from both sides of this equation. We’ve heard copyright holders make some outrageous statements too.

All in all, most people try to abide by the law, or at least what they think is the law…

Copyright Infringement: Ignorance Was Bliss, Now I Feel So Dirty

Monday, April 12th, 2010 by

Poor beautiful girl

I used to play the upright bass quite a bit.  Unfortunately my beautiful axe has been more of decoration than an instrument of late.  It’s been broken for several years now.

I played straight ahead jazz, usually at restaurants that wanted a trio to quintet sized group for a handful of hours on the weekend, the occasional festival, weddings, that sort of thing.

At the majority of these type of gigs if the performers are reading the music they’re doing so out of what’s called the Real Book, a spiral bound collection of poor quality Xerox copies of transcriptions of common jazz standards.

I remember my first encounter with this ‘publication’.  Some character pulled up outside of a summer jazz workshop at a college in a beat up old Caprice and popped the trunk to reveal the various volumes and keys it was available in.  I bought my first Real Book from that dude (a well deserved moniker), and several more from music stores that kept them behind the counter and would look both ways before pulling them out for sale.

So cool, so illegal

This thing might as well be hot. As you can guess, the ‘real’ Real Books have not obtained the any licensing rights or permissions from the original composers or their estates and as such are infringements of copyright and illegal.

The music was transcribed by hand in the 1970s from popular recordings, often performed by the composers themselves, so for musicians it’s the real deal.

The legal ones suck. There are completely legal, licensed versions of Real Books, and I can tell you from experience that they are not fun to work with.  First of all, they’re wrong.  Somewhere in the process of being approved and verified by the estates and publishers they’ve strayed from the way they were usually performed and recorded so they just don’t sound right.  Secondly, the collection of songs doesn’t match those in the illegal book.  I’m sure legal publishers would never be able to afford to obtain the rights to all of them and still turn a profit.  Lastly, even if you do find the same song in both the legal and underground books, again, they’re not the same, and you can’t have musicians reading both.

Let’s suppose that all the musicians in the group have unanimously decided to play only from legal Real books, or maybe they just don’t need any sheet music.  All rights cleared, let’s count it off… right?

Oh wait, performance rights. Even though rights may be cleared on the written sheet music there are also public performance rights involved.  Much of the onus of performance rights lies with the venue, but musicians are partially responsible too.  Worship services are an exception where permission is not required.

ASCAP represents a large number of composers, authors and publishers, and businesses can obtain a license for performances.  Then all the manager of the venue has to do is get every band to lookup every song in ASCAP’s repertory to ensure it’s covered and playable.  Yeah, right.  In all the gigs I played I don’t think there was a single place that mentioned anything about having an ASCAP license and only one musician said they were a member, and he was primarily in it for the composer side of things.

So are all these jazz musicians rolling their doobies in printed excerpts of copyright law and laughing in the face of the hard working composers behind the music?  Truth be told I didn’t meet very many ‘cats’ that were into illicit drugs, and who has rolling papers that fit in their printer anyway?  So, no.  My guess is that most of these artists would be happy to throw a few bucks from each gig to the creative souls who helped make the night possible, but the reality is that connecting these two parties, defining and negotiating the license, and transacting that small of a payment is normally an unreasonable hurdle.

That’s what we’re trying to accomplish with RightsPro, making it easier for rights holders and licensees to get through the licensing process so everyone is cool.

I dropped my bass off at the luthier this week and with any luck I’ll be able to practice enough in time to accept an upcoming gig next month.  Unfortunately, it’s very likely we’ll be infringing on copyright yet again, but I plan to do everything in my power to avoid it.  I don’t see anywhere on ASCAP or BMI’s site about musicians obtaining licenses directly but I’ll continue to investigate.  I’ll be spreading awareness by asking any venues if they have obtained a BMI and/or ASCAP license.  I’ll be discouraging fellow musicians from purchasing illegal Real Books.  And lastly, we’ll continue our hard work on RightsPro so I can one day easily give the greats their slice of the pie.

Covering Your Assets

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by

Since the advent of the Internet and digital technology, it has never been easier for someone to rip off your work. It happens every day, despite the parameters of copyright law, which give an author exclusive rights to his or her creative content. The idea behind this legislation is to give creators an incentive to create, thus benefiting us all by enriching our culture, economy and society as a whole. Without it, we might be faced with a world in which copycats rule, creativity is stifled and content has the same stale taste.

But even when your works are copyright protected, there is still potential for infringers to take advantage of that content’s accessibility and to use it without giving you credit or monetary compensation. We’ve partnered up with PicScout, which offers a service unique to this Internet dilemma. Its image recognition software combs the web for your image(s) and reports every usage on specific sites. This is where we step in and provide the legal component. We contact infringers, send out takedown notices or negotiate licensing terms and fees, obtaining the compensation you deserve. In a recent case, we were able to procure a nice chunk of change for a nature stock photography site that found out its images were being used on several sites without its knowledge and permission. And it’s not just the bigger image vendors; the same can be done for independent photographers. It’s one small step for your pocketbook, one giant leap for copyright enforcement.

Technology never ceases to amaze me. It continues to circumvent, challenge and redefine the laws attempting to maintain order in the Wild Wild Web. I understand how it can be daunting to take the law into your hands and track down the “bad guys” (or the blissfully ignorant — “I saw it on someone else’s web site. Doesn’t that mean it’s public domain?”). Stealing may be as simple as right clicking an image, but now there are ways to fight back, technology with technology.

What is Copyright Violation Worth?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 by

Well, the mutant’s outta the bag… Not so much now, as we near a year after the original controversy, but that’s what people were thinking last spring when a bootleg copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” leaked onto the Internet a month before its intended theater premiere. In fact, I recall the initial buzz about the premature release. A few of my friends, who are comic book junkies and avid X-Men fans, informed me of the event with mingled giddiness and disgust. We agreed that a few weeks of waiting was worth maintaining our nerd integrity, and (to my knowledge) we were all untainted when we saw the blockbuster in theaters.

But what ever happened to the leaker? Little did he know, the now infamous “Wolverine” leaker, Gilberto Sanchez, a working stiff from the Bronx, was in for a rude awakening. Gilberto, who says he bought a DVD of the unfinished version of the film on the street, was literally awakened by F.B.I. agents pounding on his door in December. He was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of uploading the copy of the 20th Century Fox movie to the Web site If convicted, Sanchez faces prison time and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss in regards to the offense, whichever is greater. Though Sanchez, released on bail, seems to be bearing the brunt of the film studio’s wrath, the F.B.I. continues searching for the true criminal: whoever stole the copy of the film in the first place.

So, what was the total damage wrought by this clear copyright violation? “Wolverine” ended up grossing $373 million worldwide, making those 15 million downloads (by Fox estimates) seem like a drop in the bucket. But just try telling that to the film studio. Or Sanchez, for that matter. More than anything, I’d love to ask him the question that will be on my mind as I pop a Netflix DVD of “Wolverine” into my laptop this week: “Was it worth it?”

Don’t Steal Content

Friday, January 15th, 2010 by

Most copyright infringements are not intentional but rather a lack of education on the part of the person using the content without permission.

Maybe they didn’t know they weren’t suppose to copy that image from Flickr onto their blog.  Maybe they thought because they bought the CD they could use it as a sound track for their commercial.  Maybe they didn’t realize that non-commercial Creative Commons license conflicts with their corporate website.

Even when the user does seek permission for use from the source there may be other issues present like additional rights holders that require model release or ambiguous licensing terms that would put the user in violation if they, say, used it in a print brochure in addition to on their website.

Education in the area of intellectual property rights will become increasingly important as more and more people publish works like blogs, podcasts, and video casts, and use creative content from sites like Flickr and YouTube.

We hope this blog can be a resource for some of that education for you.