How Just Making A Documentary About Copyright Might Get You Sued Over Copyright
from the bring-on-the-lawyers dept
While we raised the money to license about two-dozen songs and some footage, our film nevertheless contains over 400 brief-but-unlicensed uses of copyrighted material. When I can't sleep at night, I sometimes count how much we'd be liable for: up to $150,000 in statutory damages, per infringement. 400 x $150,000 = $60,000,000. Sixty. Million. Dollars.He points out how copyright law is not only ridiculous in such situations, it's also haphazard in that it's not applied consistently at all:
One of the more headache-inducing aspects of the way copyright law is interpreted is how haphazardly it is applied in different contexts. When writing a book, quoting another book is perfectly acceptable, but quoting more than two lines from song lyrics (even if it takes less than 0.001 percent of the book's total text) might give you and your publisher a problem. If your band perfectly imitates a distinctive drum rhythm from a Bo Diddley record, no worries, musicians have been doing that for half a century. But when you sample Diddley's beat it could be a copyright infringement if you don't get permission. Inversely, you don't need approval when you record a cover of someone else's song, as long as you pay the per-song fee that is set by Congress and don't alter the lyrics. It gets really confusing.This was the point we made recently concerning the difference between a "sampled" written work, and a sampled album.
McLeod also retells my favorite story from the night I saw him speak (which I wrote about in that original post) concerning his (brief) interactions with Bridgeport, the famed sample troll, though in this telling he adds some more details, including the fact that George Clinton has been sued for sampling his own music:
In a page ripped straight from Evil Corporation Digest, one of those slapped with a suit was George Clinton--for sampling one of his own records. True story. "Yeah, I got sued for sampling my own stuff," Clinton told us with a bemused smile. "In fact, I still got a suit pending." After trying for six weeks to license a song that Bridgeport partially controlled, a company representative finally got back to us. The man on the other line--who I imagine was chomping on a cigar--said only, "Denied!" Before abruptly hanging up, he added, "Denied. No reason!"Yes, five companies, each of which need to grant their approval and (not mentioned in the article, but spoken about back in January) is the fact that if one of the five (or, in some cases, more) companies demands a higher fee, all of the other co-owners need to get that higher amount as well. It makes it prohibitively expensive. This is unfortunate, because in many ways it's taken the fair use right out of music.
In an email, Bridgeport reminded us that "any of the songs involved in the sample settlements (Public Enemy, Digital Underground, and others) are entirely separate compositions which we own a portion of and which require our approval." That's because Bridgeport now controls portions of hundreds of hip-hop songs as a result of their litigation. For instance, if you want to license Digital Underground's biggest hit, "The Humpty Dance," you have to deal with Bridgeport--as well as up to five other companies currently listed as co-owners.