I think this issue(of how the characters never seek clearance) is a really interesting one. The fact that one of the characters then goes on to meet Olivia Newton John (thanks to her viral video) also got me wondering about how this might work out in real life. Well Glee also covered Dont Stop Believin by Journey (licensed no doubt) but that got me thinking...
I bet Journey are really glad that Arnel Pineda felt he was able to flout copyright and perform covers of Journey songs (as well as other artists) or their career wouldn’t currently be enjoying a major reprise. After all Journey discovered Arnel singing covers of their songs in the Philippines via YouTube. Luckily for Journey they saw videos of Arnel breaching their copyright before their record company issued a takedown notice or sued him. Now Journey (and their record company) are making lots of money because someone seemingly flouted copyright law.
Of course many successful artists have conveniently ignored copyright law. In fact one could argue this has been essential to the existence of the music industry. How so? Well how many famous musicians began their careers by performing covers of previous generations of artists? Many began life by busking or performing in pub (bar) covers bands. So bands in the 80s were often covering the hits of the 70s, bands of the 90s covering hits of the 80s and so on. That’s how many people learnt to sing and play before they learnt how to write their own songs. Of course many never went on to do that because writing songs can be the hardest part and a lot of people just want to hear covers of already famous stuff. I know I did as a teenager and guess what? Some of those copyright infringing cover bands introduced me to new artists. I then went out and bought the official albums etc. As I spent my teenage years in a little backwater town that the big groups didn’t visit cover bands acted as unpaid but highly effective promotional agents for artists and record companies.
Speaking of famous artists – loads of them performed unauthorised covers before they became famous themselves and were probably sometimes talent spotted by record companies while performing those covers as part of their sets. As noted in the original posting the mixed messages are coming from the same place. Perhaps Arnel Pineda’s discovery by Journey, is another example of a mixed message as the band have done lots of interviews all about Arnels success story etc in the mainstream media and to think the RIAA would have just wanted to sue him.
So I will summarise by saying that some of my favourite bands began their careers by playing covers without permission. The record companies must have sometimes known this but they seem to have selective amnesia and in the rush to crush copyright infringement in the digital era they are in danger of decimating their own longer term future. If girl scouts cannot sing copyrighted songs, and if parents cannot video their children miming to hits of the day, and if aspiring musicians cannot learn their trade by performing classic covers then it will be the record industry that will ultimately be responsible for the day the music died.