The Ridiculous Hoops Mad Men Had To Jump Through To Use Part Of A Beatles Song

from the or-how-we-kill-culture dept

This story has been making the rounds about how Lionsgate, the studio behind the hit TV series Mad Men, paid somewhere close to $250,000 to license a Beatles song to use in a recent episode of the show. While the money is the part that everyone focuses on, the article talks about how involved the process was to actually get the approval of the Beatles to use the song:

Weiner, who says he once met Paul McCartney at a party but didn’t broach the subject of licensing, zeroed in on “Tomorrow Never Knows” last summer, when he got the idea for a story about “how people think they know what the Beatles are. Of course the Beatles are one step ahead of you at least.” That started a process he’d been through before, of sending “impassioned letters” to the band’s representatives, including primary gatekeeper Jeff Jones, head of Apple Corps.

This time, as Weiner cleared that initial hurdle, he continued to make his case for placing the Beatles “in a new context” by sharing story outlines and script pages with the team—“things I don’t usually do,” he says. Permission was finally granted based on the merit of the show and his plan for the song, not the amount of money on the table, he says. “The idea is that this is a financial arrangement, there is nothing further from the truth. This is completely an artistic collaboration.”

But, here’s the thing, as the article notes elsewhere, part of the appeal of the show is the very, very, very thorough attention to detail to make everything about the show accurate to the time. In fact, we noted a story (that not everyone agreed was true) that suggested that copyright had gotten in the way of historical realism on the show in the past. But here, as the show’s producers noted, the Beatles are such a huge part of the 60s, it’s a little crazy that they can’t have the music on the show without jumping through this series of hoops. It basically means nobody can accurately depict an important period of cultural history without permission from the band.

If anything, it seems like (once again) copyright is being used to stifle culture, rather than to enable and encourage it. It also highlights one of the more ridiculous parts of copyright law: the vast differences in the way different rights and licenses work. If this were merely being performed live in a venue, the venue could get typical ASCAP/BMI licenses and play whatever music they wanted (with a few limitations). But, since it goes on TV, you’re suddenly dealing with new issues like sync licenses. That seems silly. If we’re going to allow public venues to play whatever they want with a blanket license, why shouldn’t that apply equally to a TV show like Mad Men, which is using the music to accurately portray a time?

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Companies: apple corps, lionsgate

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Comments on “The Ridiculous Hoops Mad Men Had To Jump Through To Use Part Of A Beatles Song”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s probably about control. It’s not enough for them to have the free advertising that comes with free TV exposure, they have to be able to control the context, branding, etc.

In some artistic ways that’s understandable – I mean, who can listen to Steeler’s Wheel nowadays without thinking of someone having their ear cut off? But in pure business terms, it’s idiotic, especially as we’re talking about stuff that should almost be public domain by now if the rules hadn’t changed retroactively.

Ruud (profile) says:

Here, There and Everywhere?

The Beatles catalog is probably the most protected music catalog ever. None of the albums can be found on Amazon and several other download services. Search “Beatles” and you will find interviews, some old covers they did, and a bunch of songs preformed by Beatles tribute bands. No Beatles songs are included in themed compilations.

It’s a shame that such cultural icons are kept from the public by their gatekeepers.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Here, There and Everywhere?

While getting downloads seems from Amazon impossible and elsewhere getting shiny plastic disks is still more than possible.

As has been mentioned Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono control the catalogue now. I believe that George Harrison’s wife has equal say.

They are their own gatekeepers. In part because they were sick and tired of getting exploited by likes of Northern Songs Ltd, their publisher while the band was still together and then the feeling of betrayal when Michael Jackson put the big neon “Unbelievable Sale on Beatles Material” sign up when Jackson had control of the catalogue. Remember the Nike commercial?

The other, perhaps more practical, reason is that it’s easier just to say NO up front than to have to deal with the deluge requests if they left open much in the way of a possible yes to requests. The Stones and The Who protect their back catalogues almost as jealously as do a few other bands from the period and other artists and bands right up to today. Things will loosen up once the remaining band members die or decide that a few more projects are worth letting through the barrier as long as they get the final say of how their stuff was used before release.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think it’s leftover from the days when it meant the band was selling out. Having your music on TV was akin to writing commercial jingles for Pepsi and a clear sign you were only doing it for the money. Plus the attitude that a song might be ruined by associating it with something else (like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” being used for everything.)

Selling out seems to just make a band cooler these days, but some people still feel the sting when they hear a beloved song used and abused.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Beatles songs have been rigorously protected for years, at least Michael Jackson bought the catalogue and put up a On Sale sign until Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko tore various strips off him.
I’ve never been sure it was because the band didn’t want to be known as sell outs, though that was John’s explanation or that they just didn’t want to keep saying no to the thousands of requests to use the songs for everything from charities, to Cheezies, to companies they certainly didn’t want to be identified with.
Given the reaction to Nike using a Beatles’ song which was hostile to say the least we won’t hear commercials using any of the for a while.
Now this seems to be the sort of thing that the band would approve of, as it did get to use the song they wanted because if Paul, Yoko or Ringo had said “no” that would haven been the end of it.
The Beatles weren’t just a huge part of the 1960s they were an enormous part of it. They remain a huge part of music today, even if the parts were less than the sum of the whole after they broke up.
Between Dylan and The Beatles rock’n’roll and all popular music forms in the West and elsewhere were changed irrevocably. Musicians were no longer tied to outside songwriters but were expected to write their own stuff, experimentation was encouraged and the Beatles, at least, proved you could experiment and be a bit arty without going to the painful extremes of most of the “art rockers” of the 1970s.

Just as importantly musicians were expect to know how to play their instruments which caused some bands, The Beach Boys for one to have to learn their instruments which they did.

It was also expected that a live show would be live and not merely lip synched over a prerecorded musical track. (Add Autotune to that and we’re back to elaborate Ed Sullivan Show performances these days.)

It even appears that Mad Men got a discount on the fees to use the music. Which doesn’t excuse all the hoops the show had to jump through to get what they wanted on the air.

I don’t think it’s possible to lock up The Beatles behind a walled garden or to do the same for Elvis, The Stones, Hendrix, Clapton and many others from that period and pathfinders in music up to the present day. Not culturally at least. (Mr RIAA, I’m not paying royalties to you every time I “sing” “For No One” in my brain!!!)

It should be easier for programs like Mad Men to use that sort of material easily particularly as Mad Men can hardly be termed exploitative which is one of the reasons Lennon and now Yoko guard uses so much.

There are compilations and re-releases of Beatles material out there but nothing themed as someone has noted. I’m just wondering, given how dynamic the band was just what themes you’d suggest. A sampling of “post commercial pop” Beatles would be as easy as Rubber Soul and Sgt Pepper. Though as hard as it is to grasp it now The Beatles defined what was commercially acceptable along with Dylan and The Rolling Stones.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Right to be Forgotten?

The Beatles are using their ‘Right to be Forgotten’.

The great irony is they absolutely AREN’T forgotten, which is why Hollywood is trying to use their music and also why this article is on techdirt.
Look I respect their right to protect their art.
Substitute KFC for Mad Men and you might understand where they are coming from.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ah, yes the so-called Coprightonian Age (aka “The Fleecing”) – a hideously dark, backward and brief era in human history wherein the pursuit of money at all other cost by the avaricious few kept the vast majority of the people of that age in the dark. Even the tombstones of the executed perpetrators of copyright and losers of The Great Copyright Wars bore their pseudo-religious copyright symbol. The symbol died with the last of them and was forever outlawed.

It was followed by the Post-Coprightonian age wherein the mankind finally wised up and executed all those responsible for the total subversion of progress perpetrated under the name of “copyright” in the copyrighters’ relentless pursuit of completely undeserved wealth.

Rikuo (profile) says:


You almost sounded retarded enough to be a shill. 8/10.

Yeah, let’s respect copyright. A work published today in 2012 by someone who’s 20 years old would mean that I’d have the freedom to do whatever the hell I want with it in 2162 AD (assuming he dies at 80 years old, you then add 70 years onto that).
Oh wait, I’ll be dead LONG before then. If I myself live to be eighty, I’ll be dead in 2069.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But I’m the grand nephew of someone who wrote a poem in 1909 and if copyright expires I’d not be able to grant permissions or get paid for people’s use of it.
As things stand copyright needs to be extended as the copyright will run out in 2042 (he died in 1972)

Now I never actually met him, but can any of you deny me my right to “earn” money from his works.

DanZee (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the poem was published and copyrighted in 1909, it went into the public domain in 1937, unless it was renewed, in which case it went into the public domain in 1965. If the poem was used as a song, the same time periods apply. Copyright back then was 28 years with a renewal for another 28 years. If the song was recorded and sold, the recording will go into the public domain in 2067 due to the fact that sound recordings were governed by state laws and not federal laws until recently.

Lance Albertson (profile) says:

Nowhere Man

The thing is that the Beatles are truly disappearing from popular culture. They’re icons, sure, and we all pay homage, but they’re not on Spotify, so I never hear them anymore. Ditto the Eagles. What these groups don’t understand is that there’s so much good music out there that I don’t miss them, they’re just a fading memory, like dollar-a-gallon gas…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Nowhere Man

You know, I hadn’t thought about this until you made the point, but you’re right. I remember a time when you couldn’t get through a day without hearing at least one Beatles songs somewhere. Now, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard one.

At least in my own part of the world, the Beatles have essentially dropped out of everyday culture.

Even odder, given that I was a huge fan of them, is that I don’t really miss them.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Too bad they settled. This sounds like a good storyline for Mad Men:

Agency needs song for new campaign. Cut to ad exec screaming into phone: “They want HOW MUCH for 30 seconds of their stupid music? That’s more than the budget for the whole campaign!” Exec slams down phone, looks pensive for a moment. Picks up phone, dials secretary: “Say darlin’, get me the manager for The Rutles on the line, OK?”

I know, historically inaccurate. But when does a big middle finger ever go out of style?

Lauriel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Photoshop a historical event marred by copyright law.”

Can’t afford it. According to current law, I have to:
1. Buy a license to cover publicity rights.
2. Buy a license to cover copyrights (of the photographers, agents, whatever)
3. Pay a lawyer to advise me of my options when I get the inevitable nastygram, because it’s posted on a blog so it must be infringing.
4. Pay a huge settlement fee because I can’t afford the lawyer to defend me through a protracted and lengthy court case because perchasing the licences doesn’t protect me, it’s only an “affirmative defense”.

Too expensive for a little light entertainment and 30 minutes creative fun for a Photoshop challenge.

*Narrows eyes and peers suspiciously* Or are you one of the fair use wackos???

RD says:

Re: Two Questions - Ask the RIGHT question

“How many people watched Mad Men because a Beatles song was played? (Guessing nil)

How many people who watch Mad Men heard a song by the Beatles for the first time? (>nil)”

How many people who watch Mad Men and heard a Beatles song would then seek it out? (lots-to-many-to-thousands)

Glee, American Idol and Rock Band have all proven this out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Two Questions - Ask the RIGHT question

How many people who watch Mad Men and heard a Beatles song would then seek it out? (lots-to-many-to-thousands)

They neither want or need that kind of exposure.
McCartney has been selling out as many stadium gigs as he’s been willing to play for a couple of decades now.
I think you’ll find McCartney’s attitude is why should a tv company use my music to sell THEIR product.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Two Questions - Ask the RIGHT question

I think you’ll find McCartney’s attitude is why should a tv company use my music to sell THEIR product.

You’re probably right, which is a shame since it misses the point entirely. Of course, Mad Men isn’t using the Beatles music to sell the show. They’re using the Beatles music because it’s a big part of the historical culture that the show is presenting.

This is, at the heart of it, an example of how copyright can harm cultural identity. When that cultural identity can be owned, it means it is much harder or impossible to discuss, present, or transmit.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Two Questions - Ask the RIGHT question

Point missed, yet again.

McCartney isn’t an icon to many people of younger generations. He’s an old guy who made some music, if he means anything at all. Many people under 30 have never heard more than a small handful of Beatles songs, and may not have been aware that the songs they heard were by the Beatles. This number will only grow in time. None of those people are going to go to one of his gigs, and when he and his generation finally die, his art will live on – through Mad Men as much as anything they personally did.

As depressing as it may be to many, there are people out there who don’t know who the Beatles are, just as the recent re-release of Titanic exposed numbers of people who didn’t realise that the Titanic was a real historical event. There are people out there who have never sat down to listen to a Beatles song, let alone their later solo projects.

“I think you’ll find McCartney’s attitude is why should a tv company use my music to sell THEIR product.”

It’s telling that “selling products” is the only thing you got out of this. It was an artistic decision, made in deference to the period detail of the time in which the show is set. Nobody is going to base their decision on whether or not to watch Mad Men on whether the Beatles are include. Many would rediscover The Beatles (or discover them for the first time) having seen this short clip.

That an artist would chase away a new fanbase and negatively impact another artist’s work based on copyright that should have expired by now is one of the major problems we’re facing here. But yeah, it’s all profit and “product” to you…

gorehound (profile) says:

There tons of great tunes from this time era and I know this for a fact.I have been a long time listener of obscure 60’s garage, psych, UK Stuff, ETC.I have thousands of these old obscurities that sound awesome and you will not have to pay 250 grand to use a tune.
I do not care any longer about the beatles.I personally would rather listen to some of the other UK Bands who were very creative and unique sounding.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There tons of great tunes from this time era

This is absolutely true. The Beatles were a fantastic group, and a couple of their albums border on genius. But really, the bulk of their work — as good as it is — is eclipsed by the work of other groups from the day who aren’t as well known.

However, for the purposes Mad Men wants (a cultural signifier rather than the best music of the time), it’s hard to beat the Beatles.

Anonymous Coward says:

“But, here’s the thing, as the article notes elsewhere, part of the appeal of the show is the very, very, very thorough attention to detail to make everything about the show accurate to the time.”

Which is why it was so jarring/annoying in a recent episode when Joan said “It is what it is.” Pretty anachronistic.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Rights and Copyrights

It’s a well-known fact that the Beatles and other famous groups keep a very tight rein on their stuff because they like to control it. Otherwise their songs would be used for everything including tampon ads.

Anyone remember the Nike ad that featured “Revolution”? What a firestorm of controversy that brought?

“The three surviving Beatles, through their record company Apple, filed a lawsuit in July 1987 objecting to Nike’s use of the song. The suit was aimed at Nike, its advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy,and Capitol-EMI Records. Capitol-EMI said the lawsuit was groundless because they had licensed the use of “Revolution” with the “active support and encouragement of Yoko Ono Lennon, a shareholder and director of Apple”. Ono had expressed approval when the commercial was released, saying the commercial “is making John’s music accessible to a new generation.”

“The “Revolution” lawsuit and others involving The Beatles and EMI were settled out of court in November 1989, with the terms kept secret. The financial website included the Nike “Revolution” advertisement campaign in its list of the 100 key business events of the 20th century, as it helped “commodify dissent”.”

That’s why: They just don’t want things to get out of control, even with permission.
They’ve had more than enough experience with it before.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Rights and Copyrights

Hey Beatles, I’m gonna play Yesterday every time my dog takes a crap. How’s that any better than your music showing up in a historical piece of entertainment? Wait. Maybe because it reminds you of when you were actually something and not the old geezers you are now, living off of what you used to be.

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