Piano Instructor Claims Copyright On Writing Letters On Piano Keys
from the expression-of-a-bad-idea dept
With the general public not being heavily invested in the nuances of copyright, you expect mistakes to be made, but the idea/expression dichotomy is fairly central to the entire copyright endeavor. Given that, I have come to expect anyone who throws around legal threats and/or DMCA notices to at least know what the hell they’re talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask someone, who can potentially erase the work of others, to use that power judiciously, yet problems persist. For example, there was the time when two major networks butted heads over the basic concepts of reality television. And it stands to reason that if two major broadcast entities with gobs of lawyers chomping at the proverbial bit can’t get the basics right, then you can expect similar problems with individuals.
Serving as an example, we have Shawn Cheek, YouTube piano teacher, who has claimed copyright on a teaching method consisting of writing out the letters for notes on their associated piano keys. Beyond just his laughably annoying claim, he’s apparently been going on the offensive against other YouTube piano teachers.
He has apparently convinced Mark de Heide, the 23-year-old creator of PGN Piano lessons, to take down all of his videos that display the letters of notes above the keyboard (e.g. a visual display of “C, D, E, C,” for frere jacques). Mark took the bait, and stated in a video he’s removed all of his YouTube lesson videos that contain the fundamental piano practice technique. He also worried about YouTube taking action over the lessons he recording [sic] teaching pop hits.
It’s bad enough when legitimate copyrights are used to hinder broad instructional methods and information, but when the claim is blatantly one that cannot be copyrighted, it’s down right infuriating. Cheek is reported to have a series of DVDs using this “innovative,” write-stuff-on-the-keys method — and those DVDs, i.e. the actual expression, certainly can be copyrighted, but the teaching method is an idea. It can’t be copyrighted. Yet now, thanks to the aggressive ownership culture that has resulted from a reaching and complex copyright law, all of de Heide’s videos have been removed. He isn’t even challenging their removal. Why? Well, because he doesn’t really know how copyright works either, but he does know that he’s afraid of the legal repercussions that might result. Those videos, by the way, had millions of views and were quite popular. It’s very likely that de Heide was making his living in part from those videos.
The only encouraging part of this story is the YouTube comments to de Heide, in which commenters actually displayed a decent knowledge of the idea/expression dichotomy. For instance, one user stated:
“What Shawn has protected is the recordings of his performance (in other words the recordings of Shawn instructing people how to play songs in his DVDS and etc.). You would infringe his copyright by making, copying, uploading, distributing, or many [sic] available copies of his recordings to the public without his permission. I recommend you discuss the following discussion points with your lawyer.”
If the ultimate result of aggressive and misused intellectual property laws is a better informed public that not only knows the law, but also can recognize its intrinsic abuses, then so much the better. Until that pivotal point is reached, however, we’ll have to hear about piano teachers not being able to write letters on keys.