Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Universal Music Strikes Again: Threatens Bank Of America Over Ridiculous Parody Song

from the you-can't-be-serious dept

Yikes. Last week when we pointed to Universal Music's bad decision to sue MySpace we noted how aggressive the company has been recently in demanding that everyone pay them for using their music in any form whatsoever. However, we never expected it to go this far. Last week, one of the popular viral videos that got passed around was the incredibly earnest, but squirm-inducing, Bank of America employee singing a parody of U2's One to celebrate the bank's merger with MBNA. It's both hilarious and painful at the same time. It's really no wonder it got passed around. In the past, such corporate parody covers have been quite popular (somewhere I actually have an old CD of SGI employees singing about their new machines). At some point someone had even set up an amusing "chart" that would track the popularity of corporate songs. However, far be it from Universal Music (who supposedly owns the rights to the U2 song) to recognize parody as fair use. They've apparently been sending cease and desist letters to sites hosting or embedding the video -- and they apparently have threatened Bank of America as well. Of course, it's possible these aren't really the actions of Universal Music. While the NY Times is the one reporting it, so far, the only evidence they have is the cease & desist showing up in the comments and a "no comment" (and an immediate hang up) from the lawyer who supposedly sent the cease & desist. Still, given the company's recent activities in the space, it wouldn't be at all surprising to discover that there's some truth to this story.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    PhysicsGuy, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 3:48am

    Tom, we're not actually seeing what's going on... we're just reporting it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 4:41am

    uhm - uncomfortable, cant watch....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Angry Rivethead, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 4:46am


    Bank of America is a bunch of A-holes. So isn't the RIAA...maybe we'll see a big A-Hole fight...this about the only time I'd like to see B of A win for a change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    That banker can sing, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 5:31am

    That Banker can sing

    That bald gut is in the wrong business. He should be fronting a U2 cover band.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    moe, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 5:32am

    Auto-pilot Lawyers

    Ok, it's possible that the Universal Board directed this, but adding another notch in the "Bad PR Lawsuits" list -- when did lawyers start acting autonomously for their clients, instead of acting on their clients' request?

    You'd think that in multi-billion dollar companies, they'd have someone or some branch responsible for deciding when and when not to sue people. If not, it's giving the lawyers a license to print money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    ScaredOfTheMan, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:00am

    I thought Parody was allowed? It still fair use no?

    That guys has some real balls to stand up in front of his co workers and belt that one out.

    I have made a decision to no longer support Universal (I know, who cares right, just one person). No more movies, or CDs from them. The only way to get a corp to change the way it acts is to affect its bottom line. Everything else is a waste of time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Vincent Clement, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:01am


    The thing is that these lawsuits have absolutely nothing to do with making money. There are about control. The music companies are worried - and rightly so - that the internet will eliminate them as the middle man. Instead of changing their business model, they sue. That is a sure sign of an industry in decline (and denial).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Rico J. Halo, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 6:09am

    B od A is my bank

    And like most corporate institutions they usually have nothing approaching a spine when it comes to possibly being sued. This is just ludicrous, I hope they fight for a change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Greg, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:02am

    Please find and post that CD of SGI employees singing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Dan, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 7:27am

    LOL! If I was that guy's supervisor, would get him a raise post haste.
    I too hope they fight this. It was done in a meeting for bank of America, not placed on TV or radio with the express goal of ripping off U2 to promote BoA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Bill, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:04am

    I'm not sure

    I'm not so sure that the "parody is fair use" angle covers this. This is someone intentionally using a cover of a copyrighted song for a commercial enterprise. Even Weird Al Yankovic has to pay for the rights for the parodies he does. (The rights to record a cover are really cheap though, it's not nearly like licensing the original recording. It might even be only a few hundred dollars, which, I'm pretty sure BOA has.)

    If singing badly is automatically considered parody then I know an awful lot of wedding singers who can stop paying for the rights to songs they use.

    At best I'd say this is a gray area, but even then I'd side with it being infringement. HOWEVER, it's still stupid of Universal to go about it the way they are. (On the other hand we do live a litigious society where even ordinary people sue for stupid reasons.)

    But let me ask you this: Do you think it would be legally acceptable to take a video game, say, one of the Grand Theft Auto games, paint smiley faces on the characters, call it a "parody" and release it for free online? Yes, I know that's not a perfect analogy, but still, you're clearly releasing what you could defend as "parody" but do you think it's right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Mike, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 8:31am

    Easy Outlet

    If Universal was to win it's case against BofA, I have to wonder, what is going to happen to private home videos? Who doesn't have a child or family member singing a song that is copyrighted?

    You can't use the argument that private videos aren't displayed publicly.. they are put on YouTube...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 9:06am

    Re: SGI CD

    I agree, I would love to see the SGI employees singing as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 9:32am

    the private home movies should stay that way. because if no one sees them, the *aa won't be able to sue. however you can calim your evil brother/sister-in-law has coprighted material to screw them over or something. and look like a horrible sibling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Annoying Bastard, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 9:49am

    Bank of America Sucks!

    Universal and BofA are cut from the same cloth.

    Both are greedy corporate giants who have lost their focus and the loyalty of their customers.

    Unforunately, neither of these organizations realize that BS lawsuits, buying out the competition, and exerting control they don't have is only going to drive customers even further away instead of luring them in.

    Add Universal to the list of companies that will no longer see another cent of my money. BofA has been on that list for a while now.

    Thank God I listen to indy music (drum and bass) and live in an area with a decent local bank. :-P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Santastic, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 10:15am

    BofA has a bank-wide ASCAP/BMI licensing agreement.

    The creator of the song said in the NYT article that he thought "One" was on a list of approved songs, i.e. one of the ASCAP/BMI lists. ASCAP and BMI rights include performance and/or "mechanical" rights, which is to say the right to perform the song live in public or to play back a recorded version from a CD. These blanket rights are an outgrowth of the compulsory licening agreements mandated by congress. It would seem that the license either does not cover either performing an altered version or allow the performance to be recorded, let alone distributed.

    BofA will probably settle this quietly without revealing the details of the case.

    (BTW, the videotape was not a "private home movie." It was a professional multi-camera shoot. Large conferences often have full video crews to provide Image Maginfacation video on large screens and/or to videorecord the conference for reference or later editing.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Click, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 10:22am

    Dont sing UM songs in home, particularly not infornt of your camera. UM layers are ready to sue you!

    Damn WTF!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Judd, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 11:26am

    Re: I'm not sure

    nope sorry Bill, Weird Al does not need to pay or even get permission for his parody's, he gets it anyways and is the only parody artist that does so on every single one of his songs, and this is strait from his own mouth, he is covered under parody. thats why nothing ever happened with that whole gangstas/Amish paradise thing, coolio couldn't sue because its a fair use parody. he was pissed but that was it.

    quoted from his MySpace Blog

    Do you get permission to do those parodies?

    Yes, I do get permission from the original songwriters. While the law supports my ability to parody without permission, it's very important to me to try to maintain the relationships I've built with artists and writers over the years. Thankfully, most artists seem genuinely flattered to get the "Weird Al treatment." Some groups (including Nirvana) have publicly stated that they didn't realize that they had really "made it" until they heard my parody!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Bill, Nov 20th, 2006 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Judd

    Weird Al is lucky that he does get permission, because while he may be parodying the LYRIC, he plays the MUSIC straight. Words and music are two different things, often written by two different people. Weird Al parodies the lyric, not the music. Therefore, only his new words are fair use as parody. It IS possible to parody the music itself too, of course, and sometimes Al does that, but not always. Also, he seems to personally know the people he parodies and has their approval.

    Regardless, he at least changes the lyrics, so there's not arguing that it's parody. Such was not the case here though. It was someone doing an unauthorized cover as a professional endeavor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Bubba, Nov 21st, 2006 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Bill

    Payment would be made for the music. No permission is needed to use the music, but a royalty payment must be made on it. That is the law. Weird Al could do the songs straight with no permission needed, just just pays the fee for each copy sold and can not get sued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Nick B, Nov 23rd, 2006 @ 6:59am

    Corporate Anthems

    Click here for way too many Corporate Anthems. Unfortunately ZDNet have taken down the chart webpage itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    CheshireCat, Mar 4th, 2007 @ 2:06pm

    Boycott Bank of America ooops Illegal Aliens

    Bank of America is giving credit cards to illegal aliens with no credit history and no Social Security number. Close your account and join the boycott. Visit the site and learn about banks that are not doing business with illegal aliens. Don’t be the last American with money in that bank. The boycott website is set up at The man organizing the boycott is William Gheen and his website is at JOIN THE BOYCOTT !

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    CheshierCat, Mar 12th, 2007 @ 4:21pm

    Mexican Banks don't take the Matricula but America

    Mexican banks refuse to accept Mexican issued Matricula Consular Cards, as a valid form of identification, but American banks do. You must see the video. mp;thold=0

    See a list of American banks that accept the Matricula Cards as a form of ID.

    Join the boycott!

    Don’t be the last American, with money in a bank that woes illegal aliens.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Carlos, Apr 3rd, 2007 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re: Judd

    This all sounds really interesting. You sound like you know what you are saying is right. I was hoping that you could help me as I want to do a musical parody using the original music of a popular song with changed parody lyrics. I have done all the reading and it looks like I am protected by the fair use / parody laws but what about the actual music? Do I need to get a copyright release (and pay royalties) to the music publishers?
    Or should I just get a local cover band to play the music with my new lyrics and use that recording?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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