Blown To Bits

Daily Dose of Copyright Confusion

Monday, September 8th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Two stories from today’s news underscore the high tensions and short tempers surrounding the commerce in bits.

As we noted a few days ago, the McCain campaign received a cease and desist letter about its use of the song “Barracuda” at the RNC. According to Reuters, singers Nancy and Ann Wilson issued a statement that¬†”The Republican campaign did not ask for permission to use the song, nor would they have been granted that permission.”

But the situation may not be so simple. According to the RNC,¬†”The McCain campaign respects intellectual property rights. Accordingly, prior to using ‘Barracuda’ at any events, we paid for and obtained all necessary licenses.”

And in any case, the article goes on to explain, “the song is licensed for public performance under a blanket fee paid by the venue to ASCAP, the firm that collects royalties on behalf of composers and copyright owners.” Makes sense that the center would have paid a one-time fee so whoever rented it could play anything they wanted.

The moral here may just be that copyright law gives copyright owners such absolute control over their bits, and there have been so many frivolous takedown notices, that copyright holders assume they can do anything they want, such as to object to a performance for political reasons even when they have legally assigned their rights to others.

In other copyright news, a company has announced that it will sell for $30 what it claims is a legal DVD copying program for Windows computers. (Illegal programs for doing this are widely available on the Net; the New York Times article names a couple.) RealNetworks believes that a recent court ruling opens the door to lawful DVD copying just a crack. The copy could be played only on the computer that was used to make it, or up to four others for which separate license fees would have to be paid. The content industry is not amused, and it looks like another battle over copying technologies, like those we lay out in Chapter 6, will soon be joined.

3 Responses to “Daily Dose of Copyright Confusion”

  1. Mary Says:

    Greetings, I’m going to be taking the Blown to Bits class.

    Wouldn’t the distinction here be whether or not the Republican convention is an event staged for the audience in the convention center in Minneapolis or an advertisement for the Republican Party intended for a larger audience. A public performance license would cover the first situation (including any news coverage) but probably not the second (the Palin/Barracuda footage used in a campaign ad.

    I know something of the music rights issues for figure skating. The blanket public performance license obtained for competitive events covers the arena performance and broadcast of the event. It doesn’t automatically cover commercial exploitation of the event, so DVDs sold of the competitive events often have other music dubbed in. Professional exhibitions always have to individually license songs, which means skaters may not be able to skate to their preferred music if the rights are more expensive than producers are willing to pay for.

    Because there has been a flurry of these rights complaints, I am assuming that what the artists are really looking for is that their music be left out of any later rebroadcast or video compilation of the event. And to make their political leanings clear.

  2. Harry Lewis Says:

    Thanks for helpfully clarifying that distinction — what you say sounds logical. In which case, the correctness of RNC’s statement about having obtained “all necessary licenses” would depend on just what licenses they had obtained (plainly they are a different legal entity than the convention venue, so if they obtained any licenses, they were probably not merely a public performance license) and what their intended use was going to be. Either way, my guess is the Wilsons don’t actually know what license may have been asked for and what was granted, and they are just trying to make a political point by a legal mechanism.
    See you in class!

  3. Ron Thomas Says:

    Mary’s point is right on the mark as to public performance. WWE is a perfect example. This is why a lot of their music is produced in-house or is explicitly licensed as the “official theme song” ina cross promotion with a band. The big brands like ABC-Disney-ESPN or WWE (I’m a stockholder and the divdends actually aren’t bad) are very assertive. By having these special tie-ins or using the in-house music productions, they don’t have to redub the music on DVDs of live events. On old footage, they do overdub the whole commentary track to cover everything.