Just Weeks Before Coulton Story, Glee Was Accused Of Copying Without Credit On Another Song

from the why-not-just-give-credit? dept

The Jonathan Coulton / Glee dispute has been getting a fair bit of attention lately, but it appears that Glee runs into this sort of issue quite frequently. Just a few weeks before all of this happened with Coulton, there was an article in Theater Mania about a choreographer pissed off that Fox refused to credit him for using his dance moves in a Glee rendition of "Let's Have a Kiki," by The Scissor Sisters. The song and the choreography (which was done by Brad Landers for free, without a contract, but with a promise to pay later if any money was ever made) became something of a minor viral hit last year, with a bunch of YouTube videos of people doing the same moves.

You can see the original below:
And... the Glee version, starring Sarah Jessica Parker:
It's pretty clearly a copy. Is there a legal claim there? Well... maybe. Choreography is copyrightable, and we've seen some lawsuits happen, but Landers was somewhat limited in what he could do because of the lack of a full contract and since he didn't register the copyright. In fact, despite Landers' complaints, one could argue pretty persuasively that he was made much better off by this situation. Thanks to the song appearing in Glee, that handshake deal finally paid off in terms of cash:
The Scissor Sisters, after receiving a sizable sum from Fox and Spirit Music for the rights to their song, paid Landers just as they had promised during that handshake.
What's interesting is that what upset Landers (and Coulton) was something that actually had little to do with copyright at all. Both were most perturbed by the lack of credit from Fox:
From the moment Landers saw the Tweet about "Kiki" on Glee, he has pursued one thing: credit.... Since, Landers has only pursued two things from Glee: confirmation that his choreography was being used in the November 29th episode, and some kind of documentation that stated his work was his work.
All of this raises a big question: why are Fox and Glee so averse to giving credit? It's been discussed many times before that credit or attribution is often much more important to artists than copyright itself. In fact, a recent study showed very strong evidence that credit has significant value to artists, often outweighing the value of any copyright claim.

So why doesn't Fox provide such credit?

It's free to do so. It basically costs them nothing, other than to add the names to the flashing credits at the end that nobody reads, or (better yet) in online notes to the show, which perhaps people will read. I've never understood why people are stingy with credit in such situations. Some suspect that (ironically) it may be copyright law itself that makes companies stingy with credit, since it opens up at least the potential of further legal ramifications. For example, if it's later found that a use is infringing, they can make a stronger argument that its "willful," potentially tripling any damages award. In other cases, it may just be general stinginess, and a feeling that the original creators don't deserve the credit, or that the people on the show would greedily prefer that they get the credit for such "creative" interpretations.

In the end, though, it seems like it would be a nice and neighborly thing to do to provide credit where possible, even if not legally required, and even if Fox wants to claim fair use. It would seem likely that such a simple free move would actually lead to much greater appreciation and support, rather than anger towards the show and its producers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:11pm

    For many corporate lawyers, attribution or acknowledgement equals an admission of usage, which runs contrary to their job brief: deny everything.

     

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  2.  
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    Me, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:15pm

    "nice and neighborly" has no meaning when it comes to lawyers.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:22pm

    Re:

    I suddenly feel sorry for those that live in the neighborhood as Carmen Ortiz.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    Fox, like all the entertainment industries and some companies like Apple, for example, want to receive top dollar for anything that they consider theirs when used by someone else. when they use something that belongs to someone else, however, the want to be able to use it for free, for as long ass they like, considering it also as being theirs. it's the typical situation of 'what's your is mine, what's mine is mine alone'. nothing other than pure selfishness, and then use size and wealth of their companies to scare people away from suing.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:51pm

    Some suspect that (ironically) it may be copyright law itself that makes companies stingy with credit, since it opens up at least the potential of further legal ramifications. For example, if it's later found that a use is infringing, they can make a stronger argument that its "willful," potentially tripling any damages award.

    This.
    I'm sure there's at least an element of failing to give credit simply because it's not legally required so screw it, but moves like this stink of lawyer. If no credit or acknowledgement is given, that's one less piece of evidence anyone can use to prove willful infringement for treble damages.

     

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  6.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 12:56pm

    Duh

    In fact, a recent study showed very strong evidence that credit has significant value to artists, often outweighing the value of any copyright claim.

    So why doesn't Fox provide such credit?


    Because they don't want to give up any value, obviously.

    Fox is that dude who *never* throws a dollar in a busker's hat.

     

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  7.  
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    GMacGuffin (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 1:04pm

    Licensing headaches preemption...

    Say Glee wants to license this or that to some company for the big bucks. Licensing departments/folks are about as anal and single-minded as they come. (I was licensing a dead musician's famous 1960s song to a indy film recently, and the gal pointed out that the bass line sounded like a 60s Sly and the Family Stone bass riff and was afraid of litigation. I'm all, "Really? Don't you think Sly might have noticed in the last 45 years? Wouldn't there be a statute of limitations issue? Bigtime?")

    Anyway, licensing's a bitch. Having one more credit just makes it more of a bitch.

    Plus, how would it look if Fox did something simply because it was the right thing to do?

     

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  8.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Licensing headaches preemption...

    Anyway, licensing's a bitch. Having one more credit just makes it more of a bitch.

    I think everyone is going to have to get used to not necessarily getting credit, for this reason and others. The farther something moves down the line, the less likely it will be that the first person to do it gets credit.

    As I have said before, I'm not saying that this is a good or bad thing. It's just going to happen. And the more everyone engages in modifying/copying/mimicking what they find, the less I think they will assume it is necessary to trace the history of the idea.

    I think it is a worthy discussion: the nature of participatory art and the idea that individual creators become less important than what is created in the aggregate. It will change the nature of creatives and their fans, because the lines will blur. We may find ourselves motivated more by self-satisfaction and the exchange among our small circle of friends than worldwide recognition for what we create or think we have created.

    The Internet has been promoted as a way for unknowns to become famous. But it may actually become a way for fame to become less relevant. As everyone seeks an audience, there are no more audiences to amass. Of course, I know that in actuality the long tail hasn't worked out that way and "hits" have actually become more important. But, on the other hand, the lifespan of a hit and its creator is becoming shorter and shorter. As people become empowered to create themselves, I think they will be less impressed by those "hit" creators.

     

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  9.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 2:04pm

    Here's the flip side of online culture

    While it would certainly be nice if everyone always gave credit, we also see cases where credit intentionally isn't given. So, what do we do? Should we be prepared to monitor everything for misuse or lack of proper credit? I'm not proposing a solution. I'm just repeating my skepticism that credit is going to be routinely be given and that we'll be able to get everyone outraged when it doesn't happen. Unfortunately I think there will be too many cases where credit isn't given for it to become a continuing story.

    5 ways online photos get stolen - MarketWatch

     

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  10.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Here's the flip side of online culture

    Actually I have a good example of how I have done it myself. Someone will post a photo on Facebook that I like. I'll hit share, and frequently the name attached to the photo is the person who shared it where I saw it, not necessarily the photographer.

    In some cases I have been curious enough about the photo (as in the case of a very dramatic natural disaster photo) to actually try to pin down where it came from. I've done Google image searches and often find that the photo was actually taken years earlier and has nothing to do with the natural disaster it supposedly portrays. So even though the credit is wrong, the date is wrong, and the location is wrong, the photo continues to get passed around on Facebook and the Internet and most people showing the photo to friends don't know that it is inaccurate.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 4:32pm

    Re:

    seriously? You can't "copy" the style of a cover. This is the most stupid meme yet on techdirt. Especially if it hasn't been negotiated with the Song Writers and if you only have a compulsory license.

    PLEASE LEARN THE ACTUAL LAW.

    Does any band that does a cover in the style of "Boyz In Tha Hood" in the same cheesy fashion of Dynamite Hack owe them royalties?

    Does anyone who does a acoustic piano cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" owe Tori Amos royalties? What about Alien Ant Farm's cover of "Smooth Criminal", or Michael Andrews cover of "Mad World."

    When you look at it this way it seems absurd to claim ownership over a "style" of cover. Of course, coulton and anyone else COULD have negotiated with the songwriters to see IF the songwriters would share their writing for a substantive change, but ah, good luck with that...

    Perhaps the law should be changed and artist doing covers should have their cover "style" protected, but that is not the case today and I think few would find it useful to EXPAND THE LAW in this way.

    But if you're arguing to give artists MORE COPYRIGHTS by EXPANDING THE REACH OF COPYRIGHT, well by golly... that's an interesting twist...

     

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  12.  
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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 4:58pm

    Not only musical artists

    The artists of the visual persuasion usually tend to be really, really big the owner of artwork/characters, especially on art sites like DeviantArt.

    Best example of giving credit to the artist that I can come up with offhand is from that nightmare-fuel generator known as the CreepyPasta universe.

    Aside from the well-documented Slenderman phenomenon, dozens of new characters added to that universe in the last couple years. Sometimes a character will be so popular that it'll gain a following, and its customary to add "Character X" is (c) "such&such" at the end of any fanart submission about one of those characters. It's a whole "respect the original creator" mentality of that group. Hell, I've seen people give credit to an artist when they mimic the artist's style of drawing characters in that group.

    And woe be to you if you should ever claim credit for art that wasn't made by you as your own...

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 5:34pm

    The dumbing down of america

     

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  14.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 1st, 2013 @ 5:38pm

    Re: Not only musical artists

    Aside from the well-documented Slenderman phenomenon, dozens of new characters added to that universe in the last couple years. Sometimes a character will be so popular that it'll gain a following, and its customary to add "Character X" is (c) "such&such" at the end of any fanart submission about one of those characters. It's a whole "respect the original creator" mentality of that group. Hell, I've seen people give credit to an artist when they mimic the artist's style of drawing characters in that group.

    I think it is easier to promote and maintain a culture of attribution within a community, especially one where everyone knows everyone's work already and everyone has agreed to post the proper credit.

    But for a bigger community, Facebook for example, stuff gets passed around and it's very common to hit share without knowing who created it. Many graphics/photos get shared that are identical but have different sources attached to them. It's often very hard to know who came up with the creation first, nor do most people care. If it's funny, insightful, or cool, people share it with very little concern about attaching the proper credit. And they probably don't know how to find out who created it, even if they wanted to. It's the thing itself, not the creator, that is the focus.

    The primary time the source enters in is when you want to link something, say a quote, to someone. And as we all know, often people claim celebrities or famous dead people have said stuff that they never said. So we also get fake credits.

    I probably pay more attention to all of this than most. I'm a big fan of photography and of interesting quotes, so I am always trying to track down stuff. Much of the time I find the credits are either wrong or non-existent.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Re:

    Piracy is piracy, get over yourself and your inflated ego. You can dish it but can't take it.
    Arguing minute details in order to wriggle out of something is so juvenile - grow up will ya.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 5:57pm

    Re:

    Yes, for they are the real pirates - arrgh

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2013 @ 7:32pm

    Fox cant give credit to the creator coz fox doesnt have credibility therefore it cannot give what it does not have (pun intended)

     

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  18.  
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    PaulT (profile), Feb 2nd, 2013 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Piracy is piracy"

    Yes, but what does this have to do with "The practice of attacking and robbing ships at sea", which I see is the dictionary definition of the word?

    Oh, you're arguing minute details about the meaning of a word in order to attack something? Go ahead, Mr. Hypocrite...

     

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  19.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 2nd, 2013 @ 9:05am

    The complications of credit

    Required licenses tell music users who they must pay.

    However, assume there are no licenses and it's up to the user to decide whom to credit. Here are just some of the people who might deserve credit: the music composer, the lyrics writer, the performer, the producer, the arranger. Credit is a good thing, but I don't think everyone is going to get their names mentioned every time.

    Just 5% of today's best-selling songs are written solely by their performer | Music Week

     

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  20.  
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    Genu, Feb 3rd, 2013 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Here's the flip side of online culture

    But when some reposts or shares something on Facebook, nobody will generally assume they were the original creator. Using your natural disaster photo as an example, I won't think my mother had suddenly decided to take up amateur photography and twister chasing if she was to share it.

    The DeviantArt example is closer to what's happening with Glee. If someone was to post a piece with seemingly original characters on their own art page, most people are probably going to assume it's the artist's own work. Glee has millions of dollars, years of praise for originality, and multiple musicians/choreographers/music producers/etc involved in the production. When they perform a song, most viewers will assume it's their own original take.

    In my mind, it's not just about giving credit, it's about unfairly taking credit from the actual creator.

     

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  21.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 3rd, 2013 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Here's the flip side of online culture

    Glee has millions of dollars, years of praise for originality, and multiple musicians/choreographers/music producers/etc involved in the production.

    I've posted the video comparison of the famous duet with Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland and the very close mimic on Glee. It was viewed as an homage to the original. So I think Glee fans do get that not only does Glee do mostly covers, the covers can be done in the same fashion as the original. Glee is known for doing covers.

    But when some reposts or shares something on Facebook, nobody will generally assume they were the original creator.

    My point is that after something gets passed around in Facebook, the original creator is lost and people don't bother to check. That's going to become more the norm as the sharing culture increases. That's what I am saying. Sharing often results in credits being lost along the way. It's not good, it's not bad, it's just going to happen. It's the same way I view unauthorized file sharing. I don't think it's worth bringing out the lawyers to fight for or against it. It's just the way things are now.

    I'm rather blasť about both copyright and credits because I see bigger issues in the world.

     

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  22.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:54am

    Re:

    Copyright does not care about the artists. If it really did the MAFIAA would not be able to exist in its current form and with its current abusive contracts.

     

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


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