Copyright Fight Ensues Over Rebecca Black's 'Friday'

from the friday,-friday,-friday dept

Well, I had happily kept this blog entirely free of stories about Rebecca Black and the song "Friday." If, somehow, you've been living under a near total pop culture rock for the last few weeks, you can catch up on the basics of the 13-year-old girl whose parents paid Ark Music Factory to produce a professional-looking (and I use that term loosely) music video of a song that was written by Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson of AMF for exactly this type of person. This is, you see, what Ark Music Factory does. In most cases, that doesn't raise too many issues, because some parents pay a ridiculous sum of money, some tween girl gets a music video she can show her friends, and life goes on. But, of course, in the case of Black, her video went viral in a big, bad way.

And then people remembered copyright law.

A few people sent over the story of how Black's parents and Ark Music Factory had started sniping at each other concerning who owned the copyrights on the song. I was going to write up a longer legal analysis of the situation, but thankfully, THREsq had a real lawyer do so. Aaron Moss does a nice job highlighting the issues (tossing in enough humorous asides to keep it interesting), which really show (yet again) how screwed up copyright law is today.

The brief summary is that Jey and Wilson held the original rights to the composition, while Black probably holds the copyright on the recording itself (though, there may be some questions about the musicians who played on the track). Then there's the rather unclear issue of the contract that was signed. The Rolling Stone Report on it says that "the agreement that she signed with Ark in November stipulates that Black has 100 percent ownership and control of 'Friday,' including the master recording and the music video." Of course, that probably includes the copyright on the composition, but it might not, if the contract isn't explicit. Who owns the master recording and the video is meaningless to the copyright question. If the contract only focuses on that, then Jey and Wilson conceivably could still hold the copyright on the composition.

Also, while Wilson seems to indicate that there's no issue and he's fine with handing over the copyrights to Black, his partner, Jey, isn't so quick to agree (also, Wilson and Jey are apparently fighting, with Wilson locking Jey out of the company's website), claiming that Ark was the "record label" here, and handled distribution and promotion, and thus deserves to keep the copyright on the composition and the recording. Ark Music Factory's lawyer, Barry Rothman, seems to be itching for a fight, noting that:
"The agreement was not court-approved," Rothman said. "They say they own the composition. Nothing could be further from the truth. If they go forward and license it or attempt to copyright it in their name, that would be copyright infringement and we'd act accordingly under the circumstances."
Of course, the whole "court approved" bit is meaningless. You don't have to have contracts court approved. In the end, I would imagine a lot of this may come down to the specific wording of the contract. If it wasn't written carefully (and it would not surprise me if it were not well written at all), then there may be a lot of open legal questions, meaning we can look forward to a series of entertaining legal fights if the parties don't reach some sort of agreement quickly.

In the meantime, of course, it's (yet another lesson) in what happens when you have incredibly messy copyright laws that are duct taped together every time Congress tries to add another layer to deal with some technology, rather than actually comprehensively reforming the law. And, of course, it's yet another lesson in what happens when everyone gets greedy. Copyright becomes a tool for people to fight over the cash.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Christopher Gizzi (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 6:46am

    Promoting Art

    Perhaps this is one example of copyright promoting art in a reverse (and perverse) sort of way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Mike C. (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 6:55am

    California contracts and minors - court approval

    Mike, I believe that in California (where Ark is located), contracts with minors MUST be court approved (my Google-fu indicates California Civil Code §36(a)2, et seq.). The apparent goal is to (a) require some of the income be set aside until they are of the age of majority and (b) prevent unreasonable contracts by parents looking to make money off their kids.

    Chances are, the lawyer is taking the standpoint that if Rebecca Black copyrights the song in her name and she's a minor, the contract assigning her the rights must have been approved by a court for it to be valid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:42am

    Re: California contracts and minors - court approval

    Judging from the article, it would appear the contract would be between Ark and Black's parents (those sons of bitches that are responsible for this garbage).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:45am

    Can't we all agree that the song is so awful that anyone who claims the copyright to it should feel ashamed of themselves for wanting to "own" such an insipid, horrid piece of what can loosely be considered "music"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Warren, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Wonder if all the other rich parents are taking heed of this mess ?
    There is more to parenting than chucking cash over to pleae their kids.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    cc (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    I say we turn this around. Whoever has the copyright is put away for crimes against humanity. Okay? So, who wants it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    chris (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:52am

    what money?

    how on earth is there any money to be made from this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:54am

    This is what happens when one bone is tossed to two dogs. Way to go Copyright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:55am

    Re: what money?

    Never underestimate AC trolls.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    xenomancer (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:56am

    Re:

    If that horrible arrangement of bits is considered music, its a wonder no one has been able to copyright digitized white noise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Hiiragi Kagami (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    Black should give all the rights up...

    ...find a new recording studio, present them with a song she wrote and performs, upload it to YouTube, and ride the coattails of "Friday, Friday" to push her new released titled "Unadulterated Theft, Unadulterated Theft (Says the vice prez)"

    80 million views will be a drop in the bucket.

    Such idiocy. Does anyone in Congress actually read stories like these? Perhaps someone donate their copy to Senator Leahy (and the other clueless co-authors).

    By the way: I'm under that rock. I can proudly state I've not heard the song, and this seems to be a blessing in disguise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:03am

    Musicians

    "there may be some questions about the musicians who played on the track"

    What is your evidence that any actual musicians were involved?

    I put myself through the painful process of listening to the track and it seemed that the "music" was well within the scope of purely electronic "programmed" production - apart from the voice - which is obviously autotuned.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Michael, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:06am

    Re:

    If people need to be ashamed of owning the copyright on awful songs, we have a very long list of musicians and labels that should be ashamed.

    I think we can start with the Hanson brothers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Michael, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:08am

    Re: Musicians

    "electronic "programmed" production"

    If you program the music, are you not a musician? Who gets to say the computer is not an instrument?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:09am

    Re:

    Oompa Loompa doompa dee do...
    I got another puzzle for you...
    Oompa Loompa doompa dee dee...
    If you are wise, you'll listen to me...

    What do you get when your kid is spoiled?
    Taking advantage of all of your toil?

    You get crazy laws that influence greed
    All because of a rot-ten seed!

    That sure is some bad damn luck,

    Oompa Loompa doompa dee da...
    If you're not greedy, you will go far.

    You will live in happiness too,
    Like the Oompa Loompa doompa dee do!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    KilburnMat, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:18am

    Composition Copyright

    If the Agreement stipulates "that Black has 100 percent ownership and control of 'Friday,' including the master recording and the music video" it would be fair to assume that publishing rights are not covered, separate deals for Master and Publishing are standard practice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Musicians

    If you program the music, are you not a musician? Who gets to say the computer is not an instrument?
    Of course you are - but the resulting rights would be composition rights rather than performance rights - I'm assuming that the backing track for song was "generated" directly by Jay and Wilson.

    The computer is not an instrument in the sense that when you program it to produce music you generated what is in effect an "executable score". The act of typing that score in doesn't get you a new copyright.

    If I create a Lilypond file of a Beethoven piano sonata by manually copying a paper score it creates a performance (the midi file) but I don't think that should entitle me to a performance copyright. (Not least because anyone else who did it would get an identical result.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:22am

    Re: Composition Copyright

    What do you mean by "publishing rights?" She isn't planning to release sheet music is she?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Mike C. (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:35am

    Re: Re: California contracts and minors - court approval

    That may be so, but look at this from the point of view of a lawyer trying to get the original contract tossed. If you can convince the court that a minor is "involved", you might be able to play the "not court approved" card to invalidate it. I see his statement as more showing a planned avenue of attack than a serious threat.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    Can't we all agree that the song is so awful that anyone who claims the copyright to it should feel ashamed of themselves for wanting to "own" such an insipid, horrid piece of what can loosely be considered "music"?

    Every once in a while, Mike will say something like, "If you haven't heard this, you've been living in a cave." Every time he says it, I'm always glad not to have heard the thing in question.
    Life under a near total pop culture rock is pretty good, actually.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Liz, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re:

    Careful, the legal team from Warner Bros. owns that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:54am

    Re: Re: what money?

    First you claim that some people pirated the song. Then you threaten to sue them for $10 million each, but offer to let them settle out of court for $1000 each. None of them want to spend a fortune on a lawsuit (and presumably none of them would want to be even loosely associated with this song), so they pay up. Presto! Instant profit.

    (...I came up with that entirely offhand.)
    (what have you done to me, techdirt)
    (WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Silent Bob, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: California contracts and minors - court approval

    The linked Aaron Moss article deconstructing the legal issues addresses this specific point in detail. The court approval is needed to make the contract binding on the minor... even without court approval it is binding on the non-minors (the recording studio). Read up!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:05am

    Apparently, her video is sh......oh.....you said "sheet music"....never mind.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Re: Re:

    However the Colbert/Falon version is awesome!
    *awaits with baited breath to see how THAT turns out*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:18am

    As if this was the first time this happened... Most answers can be found here.

    It's just funny to see more random people blindly suing. God bless the USA. Without all these pointless and useless lawsuits, how would the economy ever survive? Oh wait... what economy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:20am

    Re: Re:

    Ditto. With such crap coming out, how can one be happy to see it? I bet this will cause mass suicides.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:42am

    Re: what money?

    The Stephen Colbert and The Roots cover of it is going to be a huge hit, so the composition rights matter!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 9:49am

    Re:

    I thought it was funny. And educational: now I know the cool kids have no emotion or facial expressions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    Let me see if I got this right.

    Some vapid teen makes a horrifyingly bad video of a horrifyingly vapid song, which is almost universally condemned as the worst piece of recorded music ever, and now there's a copyright fight over it? I think that this must be the sign that the end of any form of civilized society in the USA is nigh, and deservedly so. For an audience to have developed for this type of swill is the worst indictment of public taste imaginable. America! What a country!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    johnny canada, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:38am

    Work For Hire

    I thought that this 'Friday' thing was work for hire.

    You pay them money, the write the song, and record it.

    You pay , you own.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    ChrisB (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: Re: California contracts and minors - court approval

    Typically, contracts with "drunks and minors" are only invalid if the drunk or minor wants it to be. Otherwise, the contract is enforcable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 11:31am

    I say give it to Black because that song was absolute garbage, even if Black decides that she wants to do anything else with "Friday" it's not like many people would buy into it (i would like to think).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

    Just what does Ark Media Factory hope to gain from this? Are they really so obsessed with keeping ownership over the copyright of a terrible, unmarketable song that they're willing to sue their own customer for it?

    If they go ahead with this lawsuit, I predict that all the spoiled princesses with rich parents in America will soon be finding a new company to make their crappy music videos.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    FUDbuster (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 2:37pm

    And, of course, it's yet another lesson in what happens when everyone gets greedy. Copyright becomes a tool for people to fight over the cash.

    Is there any law that creates a private right of action that you COULDN'T say this about? Maybe the law's not the problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 2:44pm

    Re:

    Apparently money since they are advertising on the video that they are selling the single and ring tone on iTunes. Good luck with that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy., Apr 7th, 2011 @ 2:57pm

    The title of this post I believe it could read something like:

    Hilarity ensues over Rebecca Blacks - Friday

    ps: I'm a rock dweller, definitely, exiled under the rocks of Jamendo but that is ok.

    Also that silly song is stuck in my head for some reason, maybe is the repetition of "Friday, friday, friday, friday, friday, friday", OMG, could it be that somehow I like that kind of music unconsciously? no that can't be, what kind of man that would make me?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 3:29pm

    Re:

    I agree - let's not have any such laws - they are too great a temptation to human nature's faults.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 3:33pm

    Rebecca Black - Friday (CHARLIE SHEEN OFFICIAL REVIEW REACTION)

    Oh God, please take me now I can't laugh at it anymore.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy., Apr 7th, 2011 @ 3:39pm

    Songify This: Winning - a Song by Charlie Sheen

    Catching! Winning!
    Rockstar from mars.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Joseph, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 5:40pm

    iTunes

    The song has been selling well on iTunes. Who is getting the money?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 6:45pm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 8:18pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'll pay them as much as I made to make it up. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    Ian (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 2:16am

    "This is what happens when one bone is tossed to two dogs. Way to go Copyright."

    Correction: Much like copyright law itself, this is what happens when multiple dogs work together to create a single turd.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Miso Susanowa, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 5:14am

    Gang Fight!

    Absolutely the best video takeoff of Friday -

    Gang Fight! Friday interpreted by a bad lip reader

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    JR, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 3:18pm

    Friday copyright, master right

    Generally the band, producer, or anyone at the recording session from the gofer who gets coffee to the studio owner may participate in the Master rights—depending on contracts. None of them (usually) have any interest in the music copyrights. Who owns the video copyright depends on the contract. Absent a "work for hire" clause it usually belongs to the cinematographer with the DP and director possibly having an interest.

    See "Music Copyright for the New Millenium by
    David J. Moser.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Frank O, Jul 8th, 2011 @ 9:24pm

    Re: Musicians

    You don't have a clue. If music is "performed" by a synth or sample even via MIDI, that's still a musician.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Frank O, Jul 8th, 2011 @ 9:25pm

    Re: Re: Composition Copyright

    Publishing isn't limited to print publishing. Any time a composition is made available to the public via internet, CD, film, etc that's published.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Black Friday Sales 2011, Oct 26th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: Composition Copyright

    Thanks for sharing, really appreciated it.
    Black Friday Sales 2011

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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