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.

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  1. icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), 1 Feb 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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