La La La La La: The Internet Routes Around Copyright Censorship To Restore Daria

from the infringement-as-restoration dept

One of the things I’ve never liked about copyright is its potential to be the functional equivalent of censorship. Sometimes this censorship comes about because an author didn’t get permission to create his work in the first place (see: Richard Prince, JD California). While this unfortunately turns judges into cultural gatekeepers, it’s been deemed a necessary balance between copyright law and the First Amendment, and harm to the public is arguably lessened by the fact that we don’t know what we’re missing; because the censored work is never able to reach and impact us, we’ve only lost the potential of its cultural contribution.

However, other times a work is created with the initial blessing of copyright, makes its mark on the public, then becomes effectively censored down the line due to licensing restrictions (see: The Wonder Years, Werewolf). This is much more culturally pernicious because it deprives the public of a work already in its lexicon, and the sense of loss is far more palpable as a result. Often, the only way to get the work back in the public’s hands is to perform triage, excise the no-longer-licensed content, and try to be happy with a bastardized version of the work (see: WKRP in Cincinnati, The State).

What’s interesting, however, is how we’ve seen the Internet step up to effectuate cultural preservation, when copyright law stands in the way. I recently picked up a DVD collection of Daria, one of the last good things MTV ever produced. The show had an immense impact on my childhood, in no small part because of how it helped frame pop culture for me with its liberal use of MTV-placed contemporary music, and I was incredibly excited to relive that experience. When I opened up the DVD case, however, I was greeted with the following message:

For those who can’t see the note, it says in the pertinent part:

“So let’s answer the big question right away: 99 percent of the music has been changed, because the cost of licensing the many music bites we used would have made it impossible to release the collection (and for many years did). So no, these aren’t the shows as aired, but more like one of those astronauts in a TWILIGHT ZONE episode who returns from space and his wife can’t figure out what’s changed about him, until it slowly dawns on her that instead of a cool song from 1997 playing when he walks into the room, it’s some tune she’s never heard. Yeah, it’s just like that.”

Needless to say, I was disappointed. As I Googled around for more information, I could see many other fans of the series felt the same, opining that, “when I watch the show without proper music it feels as though one of the main characters is missing,” and “even to those who say they didn’t pay much attention to the music, I think you’ll still sense an absence.” Then I stumbled across something else entirely. Something called “The Daria Restoration Project.”

Essentially, certain Daria fans had taken to combining the high-quality video and spoken audio of the official DVDs with the music that accompanied the original broadcasts, either sourced from old television recordings or by manually inserting the pertinent songs. They’re doing their best to preserve the fidelity of a major piece of culture that is currently only legally available to the public in crippled form.

And of course, their curating efforts are 100% illegal, punishable by hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars in fines.

To be sure, copyright owners are supposed to be able to control how their works are used to create new works outside the bounds of ideas and fair use (though we don’t always get that right). However, allowing copyright licensing to prevent the public from accessing the proper versions of culturally-significant media, after their creation and initial publication has already been sanctioned, almost smacks of a marketplace parallel to the European “right of withdrawal.” It not only presents a huge hurdle to the preservation of certain works, but robs the public of the value they placed in that media while it was available to them.

While the Internet is not nearly as “lawless” as many would like us to believe, there are certainly pockets of it where the traditional rule of law is less readily applied. And though this poses a challenge to society in some aspects, there is also undoubted utility in having these pockets able to function in the interest of the public, the proper beneficiaries of copyright law, when the legal state of play so radically conflicts with that interest. As a law student, I’m not happy when I see pirates doing a better job than copyright owners at preserving and spreading culture; after all, the Supreme Court recently noted in its Golan decision that copyright law can serve its core purpose not only by incentivizing the creation of works, but the dissemination of them as well. Yet here we see copyright hurdles completely inhibiting the proper dissemination of legally-created works through economic censorship.

Well, as John Gilmore once said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” So until copyright law manages to untangle itself and properly serve its own fundamental purpose, I’m glad we can rely on pirates to do its job for it.

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Comments on “La La La La La: The Internet Routes Around Copyright Censorship To Restore Daria”

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84 Comments
Jason Still (profile) says:

odd hting about music in tv and movies

And on the other end, some of the best movies and tv DO need, and make heavy, relevant use of, music. Imagine Star Wars with all the music removed. The impact and feel of many scenes would be vastly different without the musical score. Perhaps it wouldn’t make a difference to someone who is seeing it for the first time, but all of us who have seen it with music would certainly miss the emotional impact that the music is there to help impart. That, I believe, was the point here. The music played an important role in the impact of the show, and its removal is a loss for our common culture.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have never considered the internet “lawless”.

The ‘net is a, extremely large, community that operates based on the fundamental principles that people in general consider important; of course this can and will conflict with laws implemented by governments and others detached from this general community.

Those involved and in tune with this community can take full advantage not only to pull in a paycheck, but also achieve some pretty remarkable things e.g. fan-funded games, freelance musicians, the entire Lord of the Rings world in Minecraft and that Oatmeal comic Techdirt linked to yesterday that taught me how to properly use “e.g.”.

Pink floyd says:

regarding starwars

DO NOTE when music is used and such. ITS NOT full all way through which is the point look at tv n movies now and you have music all time and or whatever and its LOUD. AS i said most of stuff that needs sound and such like 3 says are not that great and star wars 4 go look at it again see how its used properly versus say any show today where there just tossing in any artists at a whim as i said so someone gets to make a buck….

The movie is supposed to be the show NOT the music and that is what my point is and your failing to see and its why 99% of today’s stuff sucks. Everyone knows its all dying.
YOU have to use music to overlay mediocre acting and you use music to overlay mediocre special affects and so on….its a false premise YOU REQUIRE MUSIC , and while some can and do use it properly like in star wars, one can say the sounds you here are also special affects like a space ship going buy ….WHICH IS required….to add affect to the visual.

Think star trek movies and tv show they had music but not heavy duty…

YOU can look at the classics and say yes there is music, but its not in your face and it FITS and isn’t a major impact to the show.

I think if i’d never seen sci fi and saw just star wars 4 without any music it still would be very very impressive.
ONE might add that it might even lend to the user imagining those musics and sounds….

WHEN one over does something you take away from the imagination.

I think it would be neat to not have said sounds and then allow me to put them in as i want.

Rikuo (profile) says:

odd hting about music in tv and movies

Exactly. I just watched a Youtube vid, its a clip from Empire Strikes Back, of the first time when we hear the Imperial March (when we see Vader’s fleet for the first time). I then listened to it muted, and it just didn’t have the same gravitas or impact. The music was what made Vader and the Empire seem so menacing.

Pink floyd says:

adlib

ALSO those older tv shows like ToS trek the sounds and music were shorties and NOT full on songs and were made kind alike a special affect in a sense short to the point for a quick send the audience a mood.

I will add now I get to watching some show with a music tune come one and I have no idea why its part of the show I could sub 50 other songs in a ‘ya this can fit there just as well’ and its not a quick MOOD sound like that trek DUN DUN DUNNNA…when some guy is about to do a evil act ….
ITS all about monetizing every aspect of it and that’s why your bevus and butthead had its issues. AND a music video movie UM KINDA SHOULD HAVE MUSIC IN IT…..
that’s like having a movie called fame without dancing….

TRUST me I have a licensing issue where I’m told I can go ahead as long as I make no money…well that’s kills that…for something where the original works are form 1977 and the authors are both dead and no one is doing what I want to do and everyone I tell it too wants it to happen.

Suja (profile) says:

odd hting about music in tv and movies

Imagine watching Ducktales without the classic “Ducktales! Woohoo!” intro and the rest of it’s charming soundtrack.

Instead it has 50cent or some other rapstar rapping about ducks, the rest of the show would have generic hiphop/rap tunes in the background.

Would it still be a great show? …Not unless we could get to see Uncle Scrooge pimpin’ his bling like a gangsta mofo.

WhyNotAskMe (user link) says:

Copyright laws are designed by the copyright lobbies

The problem with Copyright laws is that we are not consulted in their design. What would rational Copyright laws look like? I am sure if broad consultation was made along with input from academics, they would look totally different than what we have today. In the “bargain” between the copyright holders and us, our politicians should be representing the people. Instead, they are representing the copyright owners and giving away the store!

See our manifesto at http://whynotaskme.org/

You're Standing on my Neck says:

Damn, I loved Daria… It reinforced my cynicism of mainstream culture, which I couldn’t believe @ the time(pre 2000) I could one day loathe all the more, 10+years later;

& Fuck Viacom- they have more than enough money for the licensing fees.

Anytime I hear “Copyright”-I automatically replace it w/ “Censorship” in my head since it’s more accurate.

Copyright and Patent laws have been abused by the JuggerCorps, and need to be revised. They hinder creation by outlawing inspiration.

What if the wheel was patented?… where would our society be? certainly not progressing… well, not that it is presently, but you get the idea. These laws hinder progress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

There are similar problems with modern games as well.

Perfect example is a game called “Hitman: Contracts”, a game that can only be found used or on amazon in a used collection and literally no where else is allowed to sell it due to a single song that plays in a single level that is hidden in a remote location. The record company (sorry, I mean the rightful guardian of the artist) that owns the song is pretty much asking for the queen’s dowry to license it a single song for one location in a video game. Unfortunately deleting the song from the game files causes the game to crash when it is loaded and few, if any, people on hand have the original source code anymore to fix it.

So it remains the only way to acquire the game is second-hand sales on an online store. The legality of second-hand sales of video games with EULAs forbidding it (such as the one Hitman: Contracts has) is yet to be determined in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Imagine that first comment was copywright “protected.”
The next exchange wouldn’t be able to take place. then the next exchange wouldn’t be able to use that as inspiration for the following one.

Privatization, Copyright, Patenting everything is a very slippery slope which would chill the exchange of ideas and impede progress.
“Their” eventual goal is to control everything you see, hear, say, or think. We’re inching closer to that everyday unless we do something about it, or @ the very least work around such censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is there a fuller investigation into exactly why these songs are being kept from the DVD releases? I know it’s a licensing issue, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the overwhelming amount of DVDs that have major label music. I’ve only really heard about it in relation to MTV releases. Is it the case that MTV never licensed the songs to begin with, maybe using whatever logic allowed them to play the videos without paying for each use? Did the labels look at it as promotion in the 90s, but now they have a different opinion? Surely MTV couldn’t have been so short-sighted as to neglect to secure future rights?

I ask because as far as I know, the contracts involved in licensing music generally include the right to release the product in various forms. I also recall the phrase “…in perpetuity throughout the known universe.” (Seriously! I thought it was a joke the first time I saw it)

ShellMG (profile) says:

This nonsense goes back to my high school years with “Heavy Metal.” I didn’t see it in the theatre but learned about the copyright issues before the internet existed. We had a VHS bootleg for a long time and now have the same version on DVD. We’ve always been leery of buying it for the very obvious (and justified) reasons other shows and movies were messed up.

From Wiki:

“The film enjoyed only limited appeal in its initial run, but became a popular cult attraction for midnight theatrical showings, much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Legal problems with the copyrights for some of the music used in the film prevented a commercial home video release for 15 years, although the film was in rotation on some cable channels, including Cinemax, HBO, and TBS, which allowed fans to record it and circulate bootleg copies. Heavy Metal may be the canonical example of a popular film or album that was unavailable to consumers for a long time for obscure reasons, despite popular acclaim or success.”

Re: the soundtrack:

“The soundtrack was released on LP in 1981, but for legal reasons, was not released on CD until 1995. The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200 chart. Blue ?yster Cult wrote and recorded a song called “Vengeance (The Pact)” for the movie, but the producers declined to use the song because the lyrics provided a capsulized summary of the “Taarna” vignette. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” was used instead. Both songs can be found on Blue ?yster Cult’s Fire of Unknown Origin album. Though used in the film, the songs “Through Being Cool” by Devo and “E5150” by Black Sabbath were not included in the released soundtrack album. These songs are on New Traditionalists and Mob Rules, respectively.

The legal difficulties surrounding the use of some songs in the movie delayed its release to home video. The production company’s use of some songs were limited solely to the theatrical release and soundtrack and did not include home video releases. It was not until 1996 that there was an official home video release on VHS when Kevin Eastman, who had bought the publishing rights of Heavy Metal magazine in 1992 and previously contributed to the magazine, reached a settlement with the music copyright holders.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I bought the DVD set years ago, I just felt more stupid now for having done so and am staring at about an hour till I have the first 2 seasons how they SHOULD be.

I really couldn’t remember the music feeling wrong most of the time on the DVD, it just felt…..generic. There were a few times, though, where we would just go, “OK, this makes no sense, this had to just be a HORRIBLY subbed song.”

The good part is I’m now excited to watch at least the first 2 seasons (all I see posted right now) again and see the difference 🙂

Torg (profile) says:

Re:

Is that a problem, or just an observation?

If the latter, probably everyone who wanted to get the DVD but hadn’t gotten around to it. Maybe a few other people. I didn’t even know that show existed and now I want to help support the pirates.

If the former, tough for the company. If they want people to pay for their stuff they should sell stuff worth paying for. If my choices are getting a good product for free or buying a broken one and then using the good one anyway, there isn’t much reason to do the extra step unless you want to reward a company that sells crappy knockoffs of its own shows.

Devonavar says:

Re:

Your reminder ignores the realities of dealing with major labels as a filmmaker. This isn’t a case of cheaping out or a saving a few dollars. Most of the time a “full” license simply isn’t available unless you’re willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per song. Music licensing would quickly exceed the cost of the production if we licensed every song in perpetuity. See also Nina Paley and Sita Sings the Blues.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Anyone else amused by the fact that the rightholders take so much joy in screwing over the consumer (resulting in “piracy”) and so much more joy in screwing over each other?

The sense of entitlement is strong with them. They do not understand how they only hurt themselves doing this.

Demand stupid piles of cash for a song from a show, have show owner use different song. See consumers not flock to buy it after finding out (from poor saps who got it first) that they gutted the music. See it linger on store shelves. See Show owners decide its not worth finishing releasing the series, and moan about “piracy” having killed off the project.

See enlightened artist give permission to use their work, work with other artists featured in series to release special compilation CD with branding from the show for release with box set. See show fly off shelves, see fans buy CDs, see everyone win.

At some point they really need to remember that they need to actually care about the consumer. The consumer should be king, if your not pleasing them your doing it wrong.

I like how they put the warning inside the DVD case, so that you actually had to buy it to be warned it would not match your memories. And they still wonder why some people just goto TPB instead of bothering with getting “tricked”.

Rekrul says:

Re:

Not that I’m advocating piracy, but how many people upon hearing about this, instead of paying for a crippled product then having to break the law to fix it, just bypass the paying part and download the whole thing already fixed?

Frankly, that’s exactly how it should be. If people continue to pay for butchered DVD releases, how are the studios supposed to get the message that people are unhappy.

And please don’t say that people should buy the DVDs, then complain to the studio, because once they have the money, the studios don’t care what the customer thinks. If they were willing to buy one butchered set, they’ll buy the next.

Rekrul says:

Re:

I know it’s a licensing issue, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the overwhelming amount of DVDs that have major label music. I’ve only really heard about it in relation to MTV releases.

TV shows
————–
21 Jump Street – Quite a bit of music changed for the DVD release.
Being Human (UK) – Some music replaced for the DVD release.
Birds of Prey – At least one pop song changed for the DVD release.
Parenthood – Opening theme music replaced for the DVD release.
WKRP in Cincinnati – Almost all music changed for the DVD release.
The Wonder Years – Not available on DVD due to licensing issues.
Cold Case – Not available on DVD due to licensing issues.
Werewolf – Not available on DVD due to licensing issues.

Movies
———-
Return of the Living Dead – Several songs changed for the DVD release.
Return of the Living Dead Part 2 – At least one song changed for the DVD release.
Heavy Metal – Home video release held up for about a decade.

JarHead says:

regarding starwars

Yeah, WTF is music doing in movies/shows anyways. Abolish the use of music in anyways other than strictly listening/auditory experience. It’s for the children, you know, so that they can learn what makes good/bad movies/shows without interference of auditory perception.

Better yet, outlaw listening. Demand research on how to genetically engineer human to grow without any kind of auditory perception, and write law that it’s mandatory for people to pop their eardrums and render themselves deaf.

Remember, it’s for the children. Failure to do so makes you supporter of child abuse and porn.

/sarc

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Business school trolls

For all the Trolls who begin their rants with “This is how business works…” I have to wonder if math is emphasized in their business or economics classes.

Let’s see… I have a video product that requires licensing for the music, but the licenses reduce my profit to a negative. I can only suppose this is because the gatekeepers have to split that license with the artists as a 50/50 and the gatekeeper wants to maximize their 50%. My only option is to go back and try to negotiate a lower fee for licenses and explain the economics. That does work so I, decide I just have to change the music.

Result: The gatekeepers and artists that would not negotiate lower licensing fees get ZERO. They completely succeeded in keeping the value of their product very high, unfortunately by not selling it, the resulting price point is ZERO, and the gross and net on this new steam of revenue remain ZERO. They have ignored an added revenue stream that they were not actively pursuing because it was not as profitable as they would have preferred.

The smart decision is to take a reduced license fee and accept the bonus revenue which may actually stimulate customers’ interest in the artists and result in more sales of the music.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re:

“Surely MTV couldn’t have been so short-sighted as to neglect to secure future rights? “

I don’t see why not. MTV’s self-produced shows were a relatively new idea at the time and their long-term appeal was unknown. Shows like Daria and Beavis & Butthead relied heavily on music that was popular at the time the shows were first broadcast, so the assumption may have been that there would be no market for it after a few years (just as, say, a show that relied on hair metal may not have been saleable at the time those shows were produced).

Also remember that this was long before people routinely purchased TV series. We’re talking well before DVD, and few shows outside of Star Trek sold box sets to the masses. They may have licensed the music for broadcast but neglected to obtain the rights for home copies. Maybe they just didn’t manage to get the golden “perpetuity” clause you mention (sounds expensive!) and couldn’t get the rights renewed, or the licensors needed too much money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Yep is a reminder to everyone and their dog to pirate everything for safekeeping in the future.

Remember folks, sound can be edited today much like people can edit images, anything you save today can be remastered in the future and enhanced and will be available to you at no cost by your friendly pirates.

I promise you, you never have to deal with this BS copycrap again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Actually, you just got me wondering. Since almost all major stadiums and arenas these days are/were built at least in part with taxpayer money/incentives (and don’t get me started on just how wrong that is in the first place) why one earth do we need to spend more money on tickets to enter the place we in part paid for? And on another note, what’s up with the signs I see that say ‘State Property, No Trespassing’? Isn’t it ours?

SomeGuy (profile) says:

odd hting about music in tv and movies

“it is supposed to compliment it not be a main stay”

It’s not supposed to be anything more or less than what the creators intended it to be. Jurassic Park would tell the same story no matter what soundtrack you put on it, but it wouldn’t be the one we all know from the theatres. Wizard of Oz has a very different feel if you watch it with the original audio versus dubbing in Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd, not Transformers). And if a show like Daria or WKRP in Cincinnati makes it a bigger part of what they’re show is saying, they aren’t doing it wrong.

Some shows or movies might not use music as centrally as others, but that doesn’t mean others don’t (or shouldn’t) use it as a centerpiece.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, it is more that the net sees blocking of illegal activities as an affront to people’s ability to get a free lunch, a routes around it where possible. It relies of the old “too big to police” concept, which is slowly but surely going away.

I cannot wait to see how this period in history is written in the books. Wild west doesn’t even start to cover it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Your analysis fails to acknowledge that no matter what laws are written, it is impossible to stop people from sharing cultural traditions – even ones produced for commercial gain.

Locking down the internet, ultimately, will bring about new and potentially better, more efficient means of communication and sharing.

The smart people will make money in this environment. The people who cannot or refuse to acknowledge that this environment exists will not.

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