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.

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Comments on “Copyright Fight Ensues Over Rebecca Black's 'Friday'”

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Mike C. (profile) says:

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.

Mike C. (profile) says:

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.

Silent Bob says:

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!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: 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!

Anonymous Coward says:

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)

Hiiragi Kagami (profile) says:

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.

Richard (profile) says:


“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.

Richard (profile) says:

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.)

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

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!

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Nicedoggy. says:

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?

JR (profile) says:

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.

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