Category Archives: Copyright

Loose Lips Syncing Shifts

"Wax Lips" courtesy of Red Clover

Back in the 80’s, MTV was cutting edge. To many of us growing up back then, music videos were as much a part of the soundtrack to our lives as the music itself.

Inspired, my high school class produced its own music video; a lip syncing production of Devo’s We’re Through Being Cool which was seen by less than a thousand people at my school’s annual musical revue. [Note to Roslyn High alums, please send me a copy and I will post it here!]. Today, kids produce lip dubs in just a few hours and mass distribute them to millions worldwide through viral video websites like YouTube.

Here’s a lip dub of I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas. A couple of kids from the University of Quebec, Montreal (UQAM) shot this video with 172 students in one take and one rehearsal.

Here’s “the making of” video of the UQAM lip dub [Subsequently blocked by UMG. I can’t figure why of the two, Universal Music Group chose to block the “making of” footage and not the lip dub itself. Updated: January 21, 2012]:

Here’s the original music video produced by The Black Eyed Peas.
I prefer the UQAM students’ take.

Of course, lip dubbing raises all sorts of legal issues concerning copyright, fair use and commercial exploitation of works owned by others. Apparently, the students didn’t clear the music though I suspect the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive.

So are mass distributed, viral lip dubs bad or good for the music business? The band? Do they cut into or promote market share? Do they dilute the promotional power of the band? [Ed. Note: Don’t ask me about this last one. I hear this argument from label reps every time I negotiate with them.]

With over 3 million hits on YouTube and publicity from news outlets and blogs like this one, The Black Eyed Peas could never have garnered that kind of exposure on their own. YouTube’s Audio ID program can link lip dubs and other user generated content on its website to online buyers of the band’s music. That kind of Internet exploitation should be music to the industry’s ears.

[UPDATE: January 18, 2010:] As reported on The Trademark Blog, Capitol Records sued Vimeo in Federal Court on December 10, 2009 for copyright infringement from the site’s exploitation of lip dubs.

Complaint Capitol v Vimeo

According to The Trademark Blog, Capitol needs to persuade the Court not to follow Io Group v. Veoh or UMG v. Veoh. These cases held that file sharing services like Vimeo are not liable for the creative (and arguably infringing) activities of their users.

As I wrote earlier, the music industry needs to have an honest and public discussion about whether such uses actually promote or dilute the value of their works. So far, I haven’t seen any proof one way or the other. In the end, it might not matter. People will continue to find creative and novel ways to exploit existing works despite the risks. It’s incumbent on the music industry to figure out a way to squeeze some profit for themselves out of that.

Required Reading


As part of my daily online read, I culled the following from the past week or so. Usually I post these links and any editorial to facebook. I am going to start posting the most significant ones – those that I think are required reading for reps (and our respective clients) – on a regular basis to dealfatigue. Please let me know what you think.

Scrabulous Facing Copyright Infringement Charges

Change in the Business Model at EA Games

In Tentative Deal, Directors Send Message To Screenwriters

Arts Council in England Taketh (and Giveth), Leaving Anger in Its Wake

Netflix lifts limits on seeing online movies Read this if you read anything today. This is where video (and TV…) are headed. Wondering if it’s possible to do a deal with Netflix and Apple directly as you can with music.

Which comes on the heels of . . .
Apple Bets on Online Movie Rentals

Oprah Winfrey getting her own TV network

TV studios cut more overall deals
Companies cite WGA strike as main cause

Steroids beyond sports
Celebrities now among those linked to drug shipments

American Library Association announces literary award winners

The Mickey Mouse Copyright Protection Act of 2007?

Mark Helprin’s recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times advocated a further (if not perpetual) extension of the current term of US copyright protection which was already extended several years ago courtesy of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998. A number of people weighed in with compelling arguments on the Times’ letters page. While I am not sure if he mailed it, my colleague, Jerry Sussman wrote in as well which is provided – with his permission – in full below:

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 W. 43rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10036


To the Editor:

The May 20, 2007 Op-Ed Section carries an essay by Mark Helprin urging that Congress extend the term of copyrights to perperuity or close to it.

Copyrights now have a term equal to the life of the author plus 70 years. Authors include not just the individual authors and song writers mentioned by Mr. Helprin, but also the corporations that hire the individuals to create most of the computer programs, motion pictures and television programs that we all use and watch. It is Microsoft, not any individual, that owns the copyright to the nearly ubiquitous WINDOWS operating system and the WORD computer program. Likewise, it is Time-Warner or one of its corporate affiliates that owns the copyright to “THE SOPRANOS”, and Sony or one of its corporate affiliates that owns the copyright to the movie “SPIDER MAN” and its sequels. Because corporations have an indefinite life, copyrights owned by corporations last for 95 years from the date of publication.

If we followed Mr. Helprin’s suggestion to its logical conclusion, the works of William Shakespeare would still be protected by copyright today some 400 years after his death. This would have prevented Leonard Bernstein and his co-creators from producing “West Side Story” (which was based on Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”) without the permission of Shakespeare’s heirs. Imagine the problems in locating all of them and securing their permission. At least it would be good for lawyers like me. The examples of literary and artistic works based on or derived from earlier works are too numerous to begin to list, but without these examples, our artistic lives would be immeasurably poorer.

The fact is that the term of copyrights in the United States is now among the longest in the world.

Very truly yours,

Jerome J. Sussman

The Times also recently published a good piece on Lawrence Lessig, the polar opposite of Helprin, describing Lessig as the “the standard-bearer for those who see copyright law as too protective of original creators and too stifling of the artists who follow them. That position has made him the darling of those who want a relatively unfettered Internet, whether it be music sharers or online poem reprinters.”