Back in 1997, the band Aqua released a song called "Barbie Girl," that was actually somewhat critical of "Barbie doll" culture. Mattel, famous for its rather aggressive intellectual property stance, wasted little time in suing the band, claiming the song infringed on the company's rights. In 2002, everyone's favorite appeals court judge (seriously, the guy never fails to entertain) Alex Kozinski told Mattel too bad, parody songs are a part of what you get for being a cultural icon -- and included the classic line: "The parties are advised to chill."
It took seven years since that decision, but apparently Mattel had decided to heed Judge Kozinski's suggestion. Reader Sallo alerts us to the news that Mattel has actually licensed the song for a commercial -- though, they "adjusted" some of the lyrics to make it a little more pro-Barbie, rather than mocking-Barbie. Still, that's quite a jump: from suing the band for infringement to actually licensing and using the song in just a few years.
Last week we did some debunking on the unsupported idea that just because Radiohead was sick of recording full albums, it somehow meant that the band's business model experiment had been a failure, and that the band did not like using "free" as a part of its business model. Amazingly, the usual cast of characters in our comments continued to insist that Radiohead had clearly learned that "free" doesn't pay. Amusingly, that very same day a "brand new" Radiohead track suddenly appeared on BitTorrent, leading to all sorts of speculation (much of it wrong). But on Monday, the band not only officially released the track for free, but in order to distribute it, it pointed to the very same torrent tracker that had been uploaded last week. In other words, the band leaked its own latest song (for free) via BitTorrent, let the buzz build, and then officially announced the "release" a few days later. But, of course, we're to believe our commenting friends who insist that the band learned that "free" doesn't work?
While we still think SanDisk's new music format is unlikely to get much traction, there was one bit of interesting news in a report on the new slotRadio device designed to play its music-on-microSD: you'll be able to buy slotRadio cards with 1,000 songs on them for $40. We've been wondering for years why the industry is so focused on the $1/song price, when new technology allows for tens of thousands of songs to fit in your pocket. In fact, if you get past the whole price-per-song thing, you start to wonder why you can't buy an iPod stuffed with thousands of songs based on exactly what you like. To date, it's always been a price issue -- with the industry requiring its huge fee per song.
But apparently that's changing. slotRadio has almost no chance (DRM included!), but the very fact that it got the industry to agree to a package that involves 1,000 songs for $40 shows that, somewhere, somehow, people in the industry are realizing that, when you can carry 40,000 songs in your pocket, the $1/song pricing model just doesn't make sense.
Last year, the lawsuit between Joe Satriani and Coldplay got lots of attention, as Satriani accused Coldplay of ripping off one of his songs. Of course, Satriani's claims were greatly weakened when people turned up other songs from well before Satriani's that sounded quite similar as well.
It looks like REM and Warner Music may be in a similar situation. Michael Scott points us to the news that Warner and REM are suing the Danish pop band Hej Matematik, claiming that the band's song Walkmand copies REM's 2008 song Supernatural Superserious. There's just one (somewhat major) problem. Walkmand is a cover song. The original was by another Dane, Michael Hardinger, and was called Walk, Mand!!, and was recorded in 1981... seventeen years before REM's release. In fact, Hej Matematik got permission from Michael Hardinger before doing their version. I'm guessing REM did not. Feel free to compare all three songs below:
We've pointed out recently that as brand advertisers recognize increasingly that content is advertising, they're looking to all sorts of new ways to do "product placement" in places you might not expect. For example, we've talked about product placement in novels. But, what better place for product placement than in a song? Lots of famous songs mention brand names, and it seems some creative advertisers are now going out and trying to sell such placement. At least that's what's being suggested after some guys who received an unsolicited offer to have their brand in a song went and published the email they received. The email notes:
"I'm writing because we feel you may be a good company to participate in a brand integration campaign within the actual lyrics of one of the worlds most famous recording artists upcoming song/album."
Of course, now there's also something of a dispute concerning the publicizing of the email. The guy who apparently sent the email is threatening to sue the recipients who posted it to their blog -- though it's entirely unclear what they'd be suing over, other than that someone called them out for their marketing practices.
In the meantime, I don't see any problem with bands mentioning brands in their songs, but it seems like there are much better ways of doing that, which don't seem quite so tacky as unsolicited emails asking people to pay up to get included in a song.
The What Is Fair Use? blog points us to a fascinating story, suggesting that one of the popular songs from the new Coldplay album has a nearly identical melody to a song by another band. This was brought to the world's attention by that other band, who put together this great YouTube video cheekily comparing the two:
There are a few ironies here, including the fact that the original song, by the band Creaky Boards, is called "The Songs I Didn't Write." The band also points out that the Coldplay version is being used in an iTunes commercial -- even though it's about the Crusades. The Creaky Boards version is about listening to music in your room -- which, indeed, seems like it would make for a better iTunes commercial.
Still, the good news is that this doesn't appear to be descending into legal threats or anything of that nature. Instead, the video concludes with a rather cheeky: "I wish Coldplay the best of luck. If they ever want to collaborate, I've got some microphones we could use in my bedroom." Coldplay, for its part, "totally refutes" the claims of the band, noting that the song was written well before the Creaky Boards performance in New York where the band thinks Coldplay's front man, Chris Martin, attended (the band also notes Martin was in London that night). It also notes the differences in the songs, and suggests that it's a "simple coincidence" that the songs sound similar.
Indeed, the guy from Creaky Boards later not only retracted his accusation, but suggested that perhaps both bands were actually "inspired" by the "Fairy Theme" in the Legends of Zelda. In a world of strict copyright, of course, that might make both songs "illegal," though I doubt anyone would think that would be the optimal outcome.
Of course, Martin also once admitted: "We're definitely good, but I don't think you can say we're that original. I regard us as being incredibly good plagiarists." The thing is, part of the point we keep trying to make around here is that, for the most part, that's true of just about everyone. It's the overly aggressive use of copyright law that prevents that sort of "goodness" from showing up. Oh, and it's also worth mentioning, that this little story has definitely increased the profile of The Creaky Boards -- proving one of the points we recently made about plagiarism. Even if the plagiarist is "bigger" than you, the original creator can use that to their advantage as well.