Piano Instructor Claims Copyright On Writing Letters On Piano Keys

from the expression-of-a-bad-idea dept

With the general public not being heavily invested in the nuances of copyright, you expect mistakes to be made, but the idea/expression dichotomy is fairly central to the entire copyright endeavor. Given that, I have come to expect anyone who throws around legal threats and/or DMCA notices to at least know what the hell they're talking about. I don't think it's too much to ask someone, who can potentially erase the work of others, to use that power judiciously, yet problems persist. For example, there was the time when two major networks butted heads over the basic concepts of reality television. And it stands to reason that if two major broadcast entities with gobs of lawyers chomping at the proverbial bit can't get the basics right, then you can expect similar problems with individuals.

Serving as an example, we have Shawn Cheek, YouTube piano teacher, who has claimed copyright on a teaching method consisting of writing out the letters for notes on their associated piano keys. Beyond just his laughably annoying claim, he's apparently been going on the offensive against other YouTube piano teachers.
He has apparently convinced Mark de Heide, the 23-year-old creator of PGN Piano lessons, to take down all of his videos that display the letters of notes above the keyboard (e.g. a visual display of "C, D, E, C," for frere jacques). Mark took the bait, and stated in a video he's removed all of his YouTube lesson videos that contain the fundamental piano practice technique. He also worried about YouTube taking action over the lessons he recording [sic] teaching pop hits.
It's bad enough when legitimate copyrights are used to hinder broad instructional methods and information, but when the claim is blatantly one that cannot be copyrighted, it's down right infuriating. Cheek is reported to have a series of DVDs using this "innovative," write-stuff-on-the-keys method -- and those DVDs, i.e. the actual expression, certainly can be copyrighted, but the teaching method is an idea. It can't be copyrighted. Yet now, thanks to the aggressive ownership culture that has resulted from a reaching and complex copyright law, all of de Heide's videos have been removed. He isn't even challenging their removal. Why? Well, because he doesn't really know how copyright works either, but he does know that he's afraid of the legal repercussions that might result. Those videos, by the way, had millions of views and were quite popular. It's very likely that de Heide was making his living in part from those videos.

The only encouraging part of this story is the YouTube comments to de Heide, in which commenters actually displayed a decent knowledge of the idea/expression dichotomy. For instance, one user stated:
"What Shawn has protected is the recordings of his performance (in other words the recordings of Shawn instructing people how to play songs in his DVDS and etc.). You would infringe his copyright by making, copying, uploading, distributing, or many [sic] available copies of his recordings to the public without his permission. I recommend you discuss the following discussion points with your lawyer."
If the ultimate result of aggressive and misused intellectual property laws is a better informed public that not only knows the law, but also can recognize its intrinsic abuses, then so much the better. Until that pivotal point is reached, however, we'll have to hear about piano teachers not being able to write letters on keys.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    fogbugzd (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:02am

    I took piano lessons back in the late 1950's. Letters were written on the keys. Is there a piano teacher or student anywhere who has not at least considered the idea?

    Yet apparently our marvelous DCMA system coupled with horendous YouTube policies that are quick to label accounts an infringing allows anyone to claim ownership of almost anything on YouTube

     

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      Richard (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:41am

      Re:

      According to the linked article a YouTube takedown was not involved - the request came direct - with a threat letter.

       

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    •  
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      Soundy (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:56am

      Re:

      I had exactly the same thought - I remember my piano instructors (plural!) doing this in the early 70s.

      Perhaps they stole the idea from your teacher? Perhaps your teacher should be suing mine?

       

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        madasahatter (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:55am

        Re: Re:

        I took piano also but never wrote the letters on the keys, however.

        I suspect piano teaches having been doing this since the piano was invented and probably borrowed the idea from other keyboard instruments.

         

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      btr1701 (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 4:07pm

      Re:

      > Yet apparently our marvelous DCMA system
      > coupled with horendous YouTube policies
      > that are quick to label accounts an infringing
      > allows anyone to claim ownership of almost
      > anything on YouTube

      If anything, I'm surprised it's not abused more often.

      Judging by the comments on just about every single video that allows them, you literally can't put up anything on YouTube without pissing someone off somehow.

       

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    •  
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      Tex Arcana (profile), Jun 3rd, 2013 @ 7:37pm

      Re:

      My dad did this for me when he taught me piano.

      I guess Cheek can go dig my dad up from his grave to serve him with the DMCA papers.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    Hollywood and the labels have taught people to be aggressive about copyright by all but destroying the idea of fair use. They have also taught that the legal system and DMCA notices can be used to attack competitors. Shawn Cheek is simply following their example of how to attack all and any competitor.

     

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    Richard (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Beyond ridiculous.

    This is beyond ridiculous.
    1. Copyright does not cover "teaching methods" in any jurisdiction of which I am aware.
    Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright#Scope if you don't beleive me.
    2. Such things couold perhaps be covered by a patent - but that is entirely different. It would require an actual patent to have been issued. If this guy had one he would surely have quoted it by number.

     

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    Richard (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 8:43am

    Removal

    all of de Heide's videos have been removed. He isn't even challenging their removal.

    Because he removed them himself. Yotube was not involved.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:43am

    You get what you vote for

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:52am

      Re:

      Then how come I don't have government made of people with rational plans for minimal government that supplies essential services and infrastructure while allowing private industry to compete to provide the best value for non-essential services.

      I can assure you I didn't vote for any of the clowns currently spending my tax dollars.

       

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        dennis deems (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:33am

        Re: Re:

        I can assure you I didn't vote for any of the clowns currently spending my tax dollars.

        Don't blame me! I voted for Kodos!

         

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:57am

        Re: Re:

        " allowing private industry to compete to provide the best value for non-essential services."

        Because when private industry operates without legal oversight (or minimal oversight) we end up with problems like a Recession and the phrase "caveat emptor" (Let the Buyer BEWARE!)?

         

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    •  
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      Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:53am

      Re:

      So we voted for a piano teacher who knows nothing about copyright?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    My 20 year old Yamaha keyboard has letters on the keys, So do I have to paint over them,So I don't infringe this smucks copyright.

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:13am

    Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

    It's ALL about "aggressive and misused intellectual property laws", NOT the laws as such! We need to get bad actors under control -- and that especially means limit income for those at truly obscene levels from minor efforts, whether corporate fat cats, manufactured rock stars like Britney Spears, or mediocrities like Tom Cruise. Above a certain level, steeply progressive income taxes should remove money as a literally insanity-producing incentive, and we'll all be better off.


    [Better than your usual writing in this, Timmy, BUT I'd at least change: "With the general public not being heavily invested in the nuances of copyright, you expect mistakes to be made, but" to "While the general public may not know every nuance of copyright," And remove "chomping at the proverbial bit", especially "proverbial", simply archaic verbiage, likely readers have no idea what it refers to. If you want to use a metaphor, invent something to do with computers, like "tapping the mouse key ready to click". -- But for purposes of edumacation here, I retain copyright to that phrase!]

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:18am

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      nobody's interested dude

       

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    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
       
      identicon
      out_of_the_blue, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:20am

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      Oh, I meant to emphasize that use of "intellectual property" passed without comment that I see, so let's not have any more foolishness here that it's an invalid concept. You all know what it means.

       

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      Dark Helmet (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 9:26am

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      "Better than your usual writing in this, Timmy"

      Gee, now I can finally die happy....

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:38am

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      I wouldn't remove "proverbial" because it's archaic... I'd remove it because it's incorrect. Unless there's some proverb regarding horses chomping at bits that I'm not aware of. He could have said "metaphorical bit", but why bother? It's not like people aren't going to recognize that it's a metaphor.

      As for the copyright claim... yeah, it's ridiculous. You cannot copyright anything which is primarily functional, such as accurate labels on piano keys (this is the reason why most clothing is not eligible for copyright.) And I'd be willing to bet that labels have only been done before, but they've been done so long ago that any copyrights, if they ever existed, have long since expired. Perhaps he could have copyrighted a particular STYLE of labeling, but it would have to be awfully creative to qualify, and also would pretty much have to be copied exactly to have been infringed.

      "Above a certain level, steeply progressive income taxes should remove money as a literally insanity-producing incentive, and we'll all be better off."

      I don't think that would help in this particular case. I doubt that either piano teacher is making obscene amounts of money.

       

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      DannyB (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 1:39pm

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      It doesn't matter what you say at this point. Nobody believes you.

       

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      btr1701 (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      > and that especially means limit income for
      > those at truly obscene levels from minor efforts,

      In other words, you're for more and greater legalized theft.

      Understood, comrade.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      cpt kangarooski, May 29th, 2013 @ 6:55pm

      Re: Holy cow! Timmy actually has it right!

      It's ALL about "aggressive and misused intellectual property laws", NOT the laws as such!

      No, the laws are still bad. First, they enable bad actors who engage in abuse. Second, they chill otherwise unobjectionable uses, such as in the case of orphan works. Paring down the laws to a reasonable level would be good all around.

      But feel free to raise income taxes at high brackets, impose wealth taxes, etc.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Greggore, May 29th, 2013 @ 9:26am

    Mozart's father did this

    In the late 1400's Little Mozart had this done to him by his father to help him learn to place piano faster. He then stopped when he realized that little Mozart's ability to read was poorer than his piano playing.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 10:04am

    "Serving as an example, we have Shawn Cheek, YouTube piano teacher, who has claimed copyright on a teaching method consisting of writing out the letters for notes on their associated piano keys."

    This is the kind of legal threat that is best addressed by responding with a form letter bearing the following legalese:


    [YOUR NAME]
    [YOUR ADDRESS]

    Dear [Attorney / Bloodsucker]:

    Fuck off.

    Very Truly Yours,
    [Your Name]

    cc: Somebody who gives a damn.

     

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    Oblate (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:36am

    If/when this comes back to bite him...

    If/when this comes back to bite him, the imaginary worlds smallest violin that I play for him will have the letters for each string painted on.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 10:54am

    Pretty bizarre case. Sean creek claims that this was not letters on keys but fails to clarify what it was being infringed.. Both teachers refuse to call each other out by name. Now they've reached some an 'agreement'. No details provided. Mark now claims his business is destroyed and that he has to move to a different house. Nothing is clear here.

     

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    ShellMG (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 10:55am

    For their next trick: filing copyright/trademark on FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine Always.

    Er...it's been +30 years so I can't remember the bass clef.

     

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    DanZee (profile), May 29th, 2013 @ 11:52am

    Copyright

    I wrote my name on my forehead. Can I patent that?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 12:24pm

    'when the claim is blatantly one that cannot be copyrighted, it's down right infuriating'

    what is even more infuriating is the fact that those that can correct this abuse know all about it and still refuse to do anything, mainly because they would lose the backhand payments they are getting from the entertainment industries. how pathetic is that? having a government made up of bribed politicians! must be somewhere east of the EU, surely! best try somewhere a damn sight closer than that!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2013 @ 7:06pm

    Copyright at its best and brightest.

     

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    Jason Dole, May 29th, 2013 @ 11:46pm

    Infringement Everywhere!

    I was shocked when a friend posted this article to my Facebook for two reasons. First: my friend is not the author of this content! Second: I'm pretty sure someone else already owns the rights to the concept of posting on FB.

     

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    shawncheek (profile), Jun 1st, 2013 @ 7:12pm

    The Lie About Me

    The issue was not using letters to teach piano lessons, it was the fact that 60 of my personal arrangements and transcriptions were plagiarized, including my commentary during my lessons. It was less embarrassing for Mark to tell everyone that I had copyrighted using letters than to tell his audience the whole truth, and I understand why he did that. Now that he is not copying my arrangements and lesson content, I hope that we can both continue with our youtube channels peacefully.

     

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    identicon
    patg, Jun 2nd, 2013 @ 7:11pm

    Piano Instructor Claims Copyright On Writing Letters On Piano Keys

    I seem to recall having arrived at this idea out of necessity back around 1982 when learning to control an analogue synthesizer via the usual chromatic keyboard provided as controller device. This f***ing fool thinks he's got a monopoly on the concept? If someone else does not want to kick his backside down the nearest asphalt stretch to dissuade him, please advise and I will volunteer.

     

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

  •  
    identicon
    patg, Jun 2nd, 2013 @ 7:11pm

    Piano Instructor Claims Copyright On Writing Letters On Piano Keys

    I seem to recall having arrived at this idea out of necessity back around 1982 when learning to control an analogue synthesizer via the usual chromatic keyboard provided as controller device. This f***ing fool thinks he's got a monopoly on the concept? If someone else does not want to kick his backside down the nearest asphalt stretch to dissuade him, please advise and I will volunteer.

     

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

  •  
    identicon
    Anne L, Dec 23rd, 2013 @ 1:14pm

    Business

    How can she claim a copyright on something like that? I thought everybody did it. It's really not that great of an idea. I mean, my daughter thought of it and she's only 5.

     

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


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