Sony's Own Copyright Infringement Shows How Broken Our Copyright System Is Today
from the because-of-course dept
It almost always seems to come out that the most aggressive “anti-piracy” people, companies and organizations are engaged in some form of copyright infringement themselves. There was Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France who initiated the idea of a “three copyright strikes and you lose access to the internet” program, but who also apparently was mass pirating DVDs. Even the MPAA — an organization whose entire reputation is basically wrapped up in its anti-piracy efforts — has a history of infringing on others’ copyrights when it’s convenient. The latest example is Sony Pictures.
As we’ve been covering, Sony was among those involved in the MPAA’s plot to attack Google by paying for state Attorneys General investigations into Google, a company that the MPAA still thinks isn’t doing “enough” to stop piracy online. Yet, now it comes out that in The Interview — a movie whose plotline has become intertwined with the Sony Hack — Sony used some music that it did not license. The musicians in question are now threatening to sue:
Tiger JK and Yoon Mi-rae (a.k.a. Tasha Reid)’s agency FeelGhoodMusic said Friday in a press release that the two’s duet piece, “Pay Day,” is featured in the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy, but a contract was never signed. About 10 to 15 seconds of the song appears in the film.
“There were initial discussions about including the song in the film score, but negotiations stopped so we were under the impression that it wasn’t happening,” said the press release. “It was only after the film was released that we became aware of the song’s unauthorized use, without taking the appropriate and necessary steps to complete a contract with the artists.”
The label also noted that the musicians were hesitant to license the music for this movie at all, given that “the film is a very sensitive topic in Korea.” Oh really? I hadn’t noticed.
Of course the likelihood of this ever getting to court is basically nil. Sony will pay up to make it go away quietly without a trial. And, as Sarah Jeong helpfully points out, Sony has insurance to pay for these kinds of mistakes.
The larger point here isn’t even that Sony is a hypocritical assholish company when it comes to copyright (on both sides of the question). Rather, it’s that the entire copyright system is broken, and this little incident demonstrates that once again in multiple ways:
First, if Sony were to get sued, it would face the exact same penalties as someone sitting at home who downloaded or shared an unauthorized copy of the same exact song. It’s difficult to see how that’s even close to reasonable, but that’s the way copyright law is structured today, with no real way to distinguish between a blatant commercial abuse for use in a high profile movie, and totally non-commercial use by a fan. Either way, you’re facing $750 to $150,000 in statutory damages (the cap is $30,000 if the infringement isn’t “willful” — but copyright holders will claim that the file sharer at home is willful infringement).
Second, it shows that everyone infringes all the time. Whether meaning to or not, it’s actually fairly difficult to avoid infringing on copyrights. That’s not to say that accidental copyright infringement is what’s happening with file sharers or with Sony’s use of the music here, but under the law, it’s pretty much all the same. The fact that, as noted above, some of the biggest copyright system defenders are found out to infringe should highlight this issue pretty clearly. Even when you are a strong believer in copyright, there are going to be some situations in which you screw up and break the law. Given how frequently this happens, it certainly seems like the problem is with the law rather than all the people.
In the end, this story will quickly go away, because Sony will fork over some cash and everyone will forget this ever happened. But for someone at home who just wants to check out a movie, these kinds of threats and lawsuits can absolutely destroy them. And Sony doesn’t care one bit about that.