Disappointing: Famed Copyright Rogue Danger Mouse Sues Home Depot And Pizza Hut... Over Copyright

from the glass-houses dept

Regular Techdirt readers, as well as fans of hip-hop and/or Gnarls Barkley, will be familiar with Danger Mouse, the highly respected producer who operates well outside of copyright law. He's perhaps most famous for The Grey Album—a mashup of Jay-Z and The Beatles (praised by the original artists) that sparked EMI to go on a copyright rampage, in turn leading to the Grey Tuesday movement that made the album one of the most popular bootlegs ever, until EMI eventually gave up. Later, he released an album to stores as a blank CD-R with artwork and liner notes while hinting that fans should find the music itself "by whatever means", since he knew there was no way he could legally sell it. Danger Mouse is one of the perfect examples of how copyright is interfering with culture and creativity in very real ways, contrary to its supposed goals.

So it's surprising, and very disappointing, to learn that Danger Mouse and The Black Keys are suing over the unauthorized use of their music in commercials:

The Black Keys sued Home Depot Inc. (HD) and Yum Brands Inc. (YUM)’s Pizza Hut, alleging the companies used the rock duo’s songs in commercials without authorization.

Patrick Carney and Daniel Auerbach, known as the Black Keys, sued Home Depot for the unauthorized use of “Lonely Boy,” and sued Pizza Hut and its advertising company, Interpublic Group of Cos., over “Gold on the Ceiling,” in separate filings yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles. The group said Pizza Hut and its ad agency created a commercial for a product called Cheesy Bites Pizza that “prominently features significant portions” of “Gold on the Ceiling.” Home Depot ran a commercial for its Ryobi brand of power tools that uses parts of “Lonely Boy,” the band said.


Also suing the companies is co-writer Brian Burton, known professionally as Danger Mouse. The plaintiffs asked for jury trials of the copyright-infringement suits.

Now, obviously there are a few key differences here. The in-depth remix work of artists like Danger Mouse has a strong transformative fair use argument that remains mostly untested in court, while the same cannot really be said for Home Depot and Pizza Hut commercials. Moreover, while it would not have been prohibitive for these big companies to seek a license, it was pretty much impossible for Danger Mouse to release his work legally. And, generally speaking, a lot of people are going to find it easier to support a person who defies copyright for the sake of art than a company that defies it for the sake of a commercial.

Nevertheless, I think this is a pretty bad move on Danger Mouse's part, and an unimpressive one. He's likely to face a lot more copyright issues in his career—as are artists he's inspired with his incredibly popular, but often infringing, work—and he'd be in a much better position to fight them if he could show that he never went after anyone with his own copyrights. There are much better ways to deal with a situation like this. It's the sort of thing the internet pays attention to, and if he had simply been open, human and awesome in informing people about what happened, it's likely that his supporters would have mobilized, and pretty soon the companies would be banging down his door in the hopes of reaching an agreement and shaking hands in public. Hell, he probably could have remixed the commercials and made something infinitely cooler, spreading his message that way and making the companies look silly. By going the legal route, he comes off as somewhat hypocritical, despite the differences between the situations.

A lot of people think, because we generally oppose the aggressive enforcement of copyright here at Techdirt, that we think any and all copying should run rampant. But that's not true. If someone is being genuinely "exploited" (a favorite term of copyright maximalists), then there are ways to address that—and the best one is by letting the public decide. Social pressure is an incredibly powerful thing, and employing it before running to the courts allows these situations to be resolved in much more natural ways that actually reflect the development of our shared, public culture. Sure, sometimes you run up against an intransigent Charles Carreon—but even then, you can apparently raise a bunch of money for charity and come out on top in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, you leave the doors open to an amicable solution—maybe even one that creates new opportunities for both parties—which is a virtual impossibility once the legal nastygrams start flying.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2012 @ 5:22pm

    Re: Re:

    Sampling is at an all time high. The effect of copyright law on sampling practice has been overstated. Most sampling cases have been defended by major label artists. What exactly would you change and why?

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