CBC Held To Ransom Over Hockey Theme Song

from the who-made-the-song-valuable? dept

Hockey Night in Canada is an award-winning program that airs on Saturday nights on CBC Television featuring eccentric hosts, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry. The show has been broadcast on television weekly since 1952 (Wikipedia claims it’s the “oldest sports-related television program still on the air”) and it has become a cultural rallying point in a hockey-crazy country.

The Hockey Night in Canada theme song has been used on the show since 1968 and has become a Canadian “national treasure” (some say a “second national anthem”), but, last week, a licensing dispute brought that to an end. The CBC was already involved in a legal dispute with the rights holder and both sides failed to reach an agreement in negotiations to relicense the song for next season. The Hockey Theme, written by Dolores Claman, was costing the CBC $500 CAD for each game broadcast, by far the highest price for a theme song in Canadian broadcasting. The CBC offered Copyright Music & Visuals — the agency representing Claman — nearly $1 million CAD to buy out the rights to the song, but the agency was demanding $2.5 million to $3 million for use in perpetuity. The CBC has since announced plans to launch a new songwriting contest in association with Nettwerk Music Group, offering $100,000 to the winner. In an interesting twist, CTV — a privately owned competitor of the CBC — reached a deal to buy out the rights to the song shortly after negotiations with the CBC fell apart.

The most interesting part of the story is the question of who created the value surrounding the song. Would the song be a cultural icon if the CBC hadn’t licensed it for the past four decades? Would it be worth $3 million CAD? Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports, notes that “the only reason that it had the value that it has and the ability that they had to monetize that by selling it to a third party is because of the long association with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.” (audio stream – 2:05)

The CBC, a broadcaster funded by taxpayers, was being held to ransom for a song that they had made valuable.

This seems to be a perfect example of our current intellectual property systems favoring invention at the expense of innovation, favoring creators at the expense of those who might add value to their creations.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “CBC Held To Ransom Over Hockey Theme Song”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Davidl says:

I'm Canadian and I disagree

Extortion? That’s a pretty strong word to use. Exactly how much is the song worth? How much is “Happy birthday” worth?

Hockey is pretty huge in Canada and $500CAD a show is peanuts for what that song meant to us Canadians (CBC had almost a 1/2 billion in advertising/subscription revenue in 2007, check wikipedia for actual figures, and a total of 1.5 billion in financing for the year).

How is trying to buy something for below market value being extorted? Especially if the CBC’s stated goal is to “be predominantly and distinctively Canadian” and “contribute to shared national consciousness and identity”. I certainly don’t read that as to mean it’s supposed to find a way to do it for free, but instead that it is supposed to *support* the creation of that identity/culture, with our taxpayer money if need be.

Disclaimer: I’m staunchly anti-intellectual property, I don’t watch hockey (but know this song well having grown up with it), and think the Mickey mouse copyright junk coming out of the States right now is the most egregious abuse of “limited time” I’ve ever seen and I *still* think the CBC’s stance on this issue is wrong.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: I'm Canadian and I disagree

Exortion? Who used the word extortion?

Hockey is pretty huge in Canada and $500CAD a show is peanuts for what that song meant to us Canadians.

Who made the song valuable? The CBC or Dolores? My argument is that the song wouldn’t mean anything to us Canadians or be worth $3 million to CTV if it weren’t for the CBC licensing it for 39 years. Yet, the CBC has absolutely no legal leg to stand on in our system, despite the fact that they made the song what it is.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I'm Canadian and I disagree

“instead that it is supposed to *support* the creation of that identity/culture, with our taxpayer money if need be.”

You’re missing the point stated clearly in the article. The value is only there because CBC has been licensing the song for 40 years. The identity/culture has *already* been created, these people are simply trying to profit from it. The extortion is to be demanding more and more money from the people who made the content valuable in the first place.

“I *still* think the CBC’s stance on this issue is wrong.”

The CBC’s stance is to try and limit the amount of money being wasted on a song licence. Remember that next time you think their product is lacking in other areas.

BlowURmindBowel says:


And now Stephen Colbert is going to pay to license it for his show just to piss off Canadians… (prob kidding but did you see this on tCR 6/10/08?)

I’ve got nothing against Canada, in fact if I could convince my g/f to move there I would be an ex-pat already… Sorry to see that BS IP laws in the US are leaking across the border.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Colbert

No, it’s not even idiotic IP laws, Canadian or otherwise.

CBC got stupid (as they often are) and let their license lapse.

They were offered a re-up for $500 an episode and didn’t bother.

Scott Moore can complain all he wants. He could have had it for far less than the $3 million that competitor CTV/TSN paid for it had they actually moved in time.

But no, they were playing the negotiation game waiting for the Stanley Cup to end when they felt they had the better chance of knocking the price down because the program doesn’t appear again till October.

Then it all became about paying that kind of money for what has become iconic and was it a good use of public broadcaster money. IE, taxpayer.

The only problem there is that HNIC pulls in millions in ad revenue every year so not a red cent would come from the taxpayers.

Sorry folks. CBC blew it and now they’re whining.

In fact, it seems like the CBC was gonna dump the theme no matter what so all of Moore’s statements amount to nothing less than crocodile tears.



Joel Coehoorn says:


I wonder: can CBC own a trademark on a song it doesn’t have the rights to?

Specifically, I’m assuming previous deals have allowed for automatic rights to the song when re-runs are shown, which means the song is still part the show’s brand even though it’s not used in new episodes. That means if CTV wants to use it in a different competing show CBC might still have a trademark claim against them, even though CTV has the rights and CBC doesn’t.

Serge says:

This seems to be a perfect example of our current intellectual property systems favoring invention at the expense of innovation, favoring creators at the expense of those who might add value to their creations.

Uh, no — the exact opposite. It’s a perfect example of our current intellectual property systems favouring (we use a U in Canada, Blaise) innovation at the expense of entrenched monopolies.

Dorothy Claman got into the business of composing sound logos because she could make money at it — it was a full time job.

The CBC was one of her many clients. Only, despite relying on the sound logo, the CBC never bothered writing a contract or otherwise coming to an agreement with her — despite years of use. Their bonehead move. Their decision to pay millions to Don Cherry instead of Dorothy Claman.

So the sound logo was never “locked in” for CBC use. And now someone else gets to use it. And now the CBC will pay someone to create a new sound logo. We call that innovation.

Nasch says:

Re: Re:

It’s a perfect example of our current intellectual property systems favouring innovation at the expense of entrenched monopolies.

By making it so expensive to pay the monopoly holder that you’re better off creating your own new music? I’d never thought of it that way, but then maybe that wasn’t what you’re trying to say…

Cynic says:

Seems to me if Canadians have a consensus that this is a bad thing, they could just get together and agree to not buy anything that’s ever advertised on a show using that sound logo. Assuming you have “commercials” in Canada, and assuming people really care, and assuming sponsors care about wasting their money, it would seem a relatively simple solution not requiring the courts or any concern over who created the value…public opinion and consumer decisions would solve it.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: An aside...

It’ll be interesting to see how CTV tries to use the song. I mean, they say they’re going to use it for NHL broadcasts and for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, but their spin is that they have saved a cultural icon.

On the other hand, Scott Moore wonders out loud in several interviews why a competitor would possibly want to air what’s essentially an advertisement for their program.

The song has been associated with Hockey Night in Canada for 39 years… will CTV actually be able to “preserve” it while breaking that association?

This should be entertaining.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: An aside... (hook, line and sinker)

Methinks, Blaise, that you’ve bought Scott Moore’s spin as the complete truth about what happened. Not even CBC Radio or Television news has done that.

For those who don’t live in Canada, CBC Television is partially supported by advertising revenue, partly by public funding.

CBC Radio is completely funded out of the taxpayer’s wallet. For those of us who don’t live in wanna be New York (Toronto) it’s been known in the past and is becoming known again as Toronto Broadcasting Corp.

Hocky Night in Canada is not only completely advertising supported as is the national telecast of a regional AL baseball club known as the Blue Jays. They haul in huge amounts of money for the CBC so both programs make an incredible amount of money.

On Moore’s watch CBC Sports lost the Olympics, another massive money maker for them, alienated the CFL, The Curling community and audience (huge up here in the great white north) and many others.

Moore’s excuse is always the same “too expensive” never mind these have been profit making properties.

Of course, they aren’t focused on the self proclaimed centre of the universe (Toronto) which may be why Moore isn’t interested.

As hockey fans in the West know full well, you’d be hard pressed to realize there’s other teams besides the Maple Laughs east of Alberta from HNIC’s double headers which routinely avoid Ottawa and Montreal in favour of the pathetic Leafs.

Sorry, Blaise, CTV will do very well with the theme. Most of we Canadians do recognize it as a theme for hockey and not only HNIC.

Scott Moore and the Toronto obessed CBC will wear the blame just as they wear it over pulling the rug out from under the CBC (Vancouver) Radio Orchestra.

Let’s all sit back and applaud the great and wonderful Toronto Broadcasting Corporation as we wait (in vain) for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to appear.



Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: An aside... (hook, line and sinker)

Methinks you hate Toronto. 😉

To be honest, I’m no huge fan of the CBC, even though I sympathize with them on this one particular issue (they created the value of the song, even if they were stupid to not buy it out earlier).

The whole CTV thing… I just find that amusing, that’s all. I have no sympathies either way. I think Moore has a point, but I also agree that the CTV will make good use of the song.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 An aside... (hook, line and sinker)

Of course I hate Toronto, I’m from British Columbia, it’s in the genes here! 🙂

What’s amusing, and I agree that a lot of this is, is watching the Mother Corp twist and turn on this one as they try to explain what they did.

At least, to give him credit, Moore is doing that.

I am a regular listener of CBC Radio One usually because I find it valuable. Better in many ways than the local commercial broadcasters.

I find this less about copyright than a litany of missed opportunities by the CBC and excuses, in the end, of why they messed this up.

There is, witness the sudden winding up of the CBC Radio Orchestra something of the bullying “we know best” attitude which extends to listeners as well as, in the song’s case, content providers.

All of which emanates from their head office in Toronto.

Still, there is hope that, one day, they’ll get time zones right and realize that Pacific Time is three hours earlier than Eastern time for their promotions, at least. 🙂



Adrian (user link) says:

facts of the matter

The songwriter’s daughter has blogged about the actual dealings:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Hockey Theme

I just wanted to thank you, on behalf of my mother, for your support of the hockey theme. I also wanted you to know my side of the story, because it’s important to me. What I hope you will acknowledge is that the CBC has had an exclusive media platform on which to air its side of the story.

First, to clear up some misconceptions. For 25 years, CBC paid my mother no license fees at all for the music. It was only in the last 15 years that they began to pay any license fee at all.

Last week, after more than a year of CBC bullying, threatening and endless changing of positions, we offered the CBC the following deal: forget the lawsuit – just pay our legal fees (which we incurred because of CBC’s breach of usage as agreed in the license deal) and let’s keep the same licensing deal as before. That’s it…same as before. $500 per episode of HNIC. They did not accept.

They kept bullying us, telling us the song was worthless, threatening to drop the song altogether if we didn’t give them exactly what they wanted, absolutely on their terms. If not, they’d hold a national contest and replace the song. Honestly, it became increasingly clear to us that this was their plan all along – to offer deals that were impossible for us to accept, so they would have the excuse to drop the song without being blamed for doing it. On Thursday, they sent us an email rejecting the offer and saying that it was sad we could not come to an agreement.

Then on Friday, Scott Moore of the CBC announced the Song Contest to replace the theme. So, it was clear, for sure, that this was over for us.

My belief is that when it started to become clear to the CBC that the public wasn’t happy with their decision, they announced that they would negotiate further. Frankly, my mother was so depressed, she just said – no, they don’t really want the song. It’s better at least if it dies a dignified death.

When CTV made an offer, they promised that they’d use the song, and they’d use it in association with Canadian hockey. Of all the things, this mattered most to my mother.

I know you are probably upset that we didn’t resolve our differences with the CBC, but no matter what they say publicly, they really, clearly, didn’t give a shit about the theme. Their only concern was they should not be seen to be the villains in getting rid of it. My mother became a very convenient scapegoat.

To a composer, their music is like their baby – they don’t want to see it buried, or forgotten, or sidelined. And my mother, being a rather strong woman, just wasn’t willing to be bullied and threatened any more. A lot of people are going to call her greedy and opportunistic. Well, they just don’t know her at all. It’s going to sound trite if I say that “it wasn’t about the money”. But ask any composer of music if they want to see their work buried, and never played again. It’s easy to focus on the money. But it was never, ever about the money. Life, and people, are just a lot more complex than that.

That’s my side of the story, for what it’s worth.

Madeleine Morris

Puck Watcher says:

fair business dealings

CBC has profited greatly from the use of Dolores Claman’s song over the years. It’s high time she’s paid fairly for her work. Since the CBC wasn’t prepared to do that, CTV did.

The public broadcaster was offered a deal to use the song for $500 per episode – with only a 15% increase after two years. That’s a bargain. Instead, they made a terrible business decision that costs Canadian taxpayers.

Alternative Girlfriend (user link) says:

Hockey Song

The CBC Spin Machine has been working overtime on this one! Unfortunately, they have their very own National platform to write whatever they want, make themselves look hard done by, when the whole fiasco is really on them. Scott Moore totally mishandled the whole affair and is spinning it to suit the CBC’s needs.

The truth is that the CBC could have had the same deal that they have had for the past 10 years, industry standard, and not even another increase for another 2 years. $500/per broadcast is not alot, especially considering the revenue they receive from HNiC advertising.

The Composer had no choice but to commence a lawsuit back in ’02, as the CBC was using the song and not paying royalties for it, and got caught. (The lawsuit is in the Public Record, and the link to view it, as well as all of the details of the deal, can be found at http://www.hockeytheme.com)

Scott Moore, televised one day after the news broke that they were letting the song go, (Because let it go is what they did, not lose it) said that the CBC had been in negotiations with Nettwerk Music Group for over a year developing their “American Idol Type Contest”.

The spin came in after Canadians voiced their upset, just as they did when the CBC tried to fire Ron Maclean from HNiC a few years before. THe CBC announced their contest and the deal was done, and it wasn’t until after that CTV contacted the Composer’s agent, it was never a matter of CTV outbidding CBC, as they would lead everyone to believe. A Poll, which no one from CBC seems to know who commissioned, trumpeted by the CBC, that “Canadians agreed that 2.5 – 3 Million was too much to pay for the song” The Poll question was misleading though, as it stated the 2.5 – 3 Million pricetag was for per-year use, which was not true. Of course Canadians would think that number would be too much for a year! If the poll was conducted properly, the people asked should have been given all of the choices the CBC had to consider, namely, the $500/per broadcast option.

Another thing? The CBC is “Cherry Picking” information from Canadian Press articles, only taking certain info and printing what will make them look like the “victim”.

The Hockey Theme Composer, Dolores Claman, has every right to be paid properly for her composition, it’s how she makes her living… can anyone say that “The Who” shouldn’t get money every time CSI Opens? And I bet you they get alot more than $500/per episode for that. It’s the same thing – an artist should get paid for their work. Mrs. Claman had already been very generous with the CBC and had forgiven 25 years of unlicensed use of the song already to the CBC.

What makes this whole thing sad is that the CBC can print whatever they see fit and puts them in a more favourable light, then other Media Outlets pick up the CBC stories and the lies perpetuate. The CBC should be ashamed of themselves for using their public platform in that way.

For anyone intersted, I’ve written 3 Posts about this in my Blog, including what people are getting themselves into if they do in fact enter the CBC Hockey Song Contest.

John Savard (user link) says:


The CBC is in the habit of televising hockey games. It is definitely true that “The Hockey Theme” would be obscure without its association with them.

But this isn’t a unique situation. Think of all those young ladies out there who can sing better than Britney Spears that you’ve never heard of. Of, for that matter, the people who play baseball in the triple-A leagues instead of the major leagues.

Since far more of us are in the position of actually doing work than owning scarce resources or capital, most people think it fitting that most of the money should go to the people actually doing the work, with capital managing to be adequately rewarded by taking a small percentage.

But I don’t think that the dollars coming in for commercials on Hockey Night in Canada are split with the CBC splitting 5% with the arena owner while the other 95% is split between the hockey players, Dolores Claman, the cameramen, and so on. So it’s really hard to feel sorry for them

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...