Posts In "Music"

Music




10, 9, 8…Lawsuit? The Blow Up Over Beyoncé’s “Countdown” Choreography

About a year ago, I wrote my very first blog regarding copyright protection for choreography. In that post, I explained that even though dance is one of the world’s oldest art forms, the legal framework around copyright protection for choreography is still one of the least developed around. And, as our loyal readers will recall, the combination of law nerd/ex-dancer in me affectionately wished for the day that we would see a courtroom battle over choreography theft. Unfortunately for Beyoncé, the countdown may be over. (Cheesy pun intended.)

Most of you had probably never heard of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a Belgian contemporary dance choreographer. That is, until the recent release of Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video. Almost immediately following the release of “Countdown,” Beyoncé faced allegations that she stole the choreography featured in her video from two of De Keersmaeker’s contemporary works, Rosas danst Rosas (1993) and Achterland (1990). While Beyoncé admits that De Keersmaeker’s works were “one of the inspirations used to bring the feel and look of the song to life,” her official statement — no doubt vetted by a team of lawyers — was careful not to admit that she (or, more appropriately, her team) actually copied De Keersmaeker’s choreography. Thanks to YouTube and those of you out there with way too much time on your hands, however, we can analyze De Keersmaeker’s claims for ourselves and determine whether “Countdown” crosses the line between inspiration and imitation.

First, take a look at Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video:

And then take a look at De Keersmaeker’s works featured in this split-screen comparison:

Yeah, that’s kind of hard to explain away.

Although De Keersmaeker claims that she is neither upset nor honored that Beyoncé copied her dance moves, she made a point to say that “there are protocols and consequences to such actions, and I can’t imagine [Beyoncé] and her team are not aware of it.” Is De Keersmaeker right about those consequences? That is, does Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video infringe De Keersmaeker’s copyright in her choreography? Let’s recap some of the things we have learned here at Law Law Land. Continue reading the full story . . . »


In Defense of Lindsay Lohan (But Not of Her Legal Claims)

I love Lindsay Lohan. Really, I do. I think she’s funny, smart, and an all around good time waiting to happen. Sure, as an actress, she’s had her share of ups and downs. But who hasn’t? As a singer…well…mostly just downs. She’s also been unrelentingly stalked by paparazzi for the entirety of her adult life, getting caught in far more than her share of compromising moments in the process. Well I say, leave Lindsay alone! If I had cameras following me since before I started shaving, I can assure you, it would not be pretty either (riotously entertaining, yes, but not pretty). So I try to cut Lindsay a lot of slack. But man, oh man, is her latest escapade testing the limits of my adoration.

Fresh off settling her lawsuit against E*Trade for a Super Bowl ad featuring a “milkaholic” baby named Lindsay and threatening (via Momager Dina Lohan) to sue the producers of Glee for some off-color Lohan-based Spanish lessons, Lindsay recently filed suit against rapper Pitbull for using her name in his song “Give Me Everything.” The offending lyric in question: “Hustlers move aside, so I’m tiptoein’, to keep flowin’ / I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” Frankly, it is difficult to fully convey the absurdity of this lawsuit. Nevertheless, my enduring loyalty demands that I try.

Holding my nose and looking a little deeper, I see there are two claims apparently being made here: defamation and right of publicity. (From the outset, I should note that Pitbull’s stated defense of  “I thought it would be helping [her] career and keeping [her] relevant”doesn’t fly.) But let’s parse each claim and see if there’s any chance that my hero will succeed. (Spoiler Alert!!! No, there is not.) Continue reading the full story . . . »


Trying to Stay Off a Reality TV Show? Maybe Try Dancing Whenever the Cameras Are Around!

Curt Sachs once said that “dance is the mother of the arts.” Sounds very eloquent, doesn’t it? You can’t help but think of a beautiful ballerina gracefully cascading along the stage, performing in front of an adorning audience. Now, take this quote and those serene images, place them on train tracks, wait for speeding train to hit, and…boom! You now have Dance Moms, Lifetime’s latest so-called reality show and voyeuristic indulgence featuring infamous dance studio owner Abby Lee Miller, several of her young dancers, and their overbearing moms. The show appears to be loosely scripted, at best, to contrive needless drama and controversy. Does anyone seriously believe that these moms were genuinely outraged by the “wildly inappropriate” costumes their daughters were wearing? Pah-lease!

Not surprising that the best they could do was Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. (Although we can all be grateful to the show for helping to bring the phrase “prosti-tots” into the vernacular. So, you know, thanks for that.)

Before I write any further, I should probably confess that I am both a former dance competition kid and, by definition, a dance mom. Like the Abby Lee dancers, my 11-year old daughter dances nearly 20 hours a week, performs in nine group routines and two solos, and attends many of the dance competitions and conventions featured by Lifetime. So, are the rest of us dance moms angry that the show entirely ignores the positives of youth dance in favor of gross sensationalization? That it fails to point out that, instead of coming home from school and sitting on the couch playing video games, these dance kids are getting incredible exercise, learning an art form, gaining performance skills, building self-confidence and creating life-long friendships? That it ignores how the drive and ambition these kids build as young dancers will launch them into a variety of successful, non-dance careers? Absolutely. Am I writing this blog to express my distain for Lifetime’s unfair and irresponsible depiction of the dance world? Maybe. But behind all the pirouettes, the show raises some interesting and novel legal issues. Really. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Un-Cover-ing

This is a law blog so I know you didn’t get the wrong impression from the title. Obviously the topic du jour is cover songs.

The minute I’m selected to own a Nielsen ratings box I swear by Friday Night Lights that I will forever after watch all television on an actual TV at the actual time it is scheduled to air. But until that day, I’m sticking with Netflix and Hulu like the rest of America. Unfortunately, while I usually don’t mind watching commercials in exchange for free TV, on Hulu, that means dealing with advertisers who are apparently making up for the increased cost of advertisingwith pure, unrelenting repetition. Thus, the launching point for today’s discussion: that *%@$#$!! commercial with the lousy Beatles cover that I was forced to watch eleventy-three times on Hulu. (I’m not linking to it, for your benefit. You now owe me.)

The cover song is an interesting creature. As you’ve heard from us before, a recorded song has two copyrightable components — the recorded performance, and the composition itself (the music and lyrics). When someone wants to cover a song that was written by someone else, current copyright law calls for a small payment to be made to whoever owns the composition copyright each time a new copy of the song recording is made (e.g., for every sale). The amount owed to the copyright owner is a bit of a pittance in terms of today’s dollars, as the amount hasn’t kept pace with inflation, but that pittance can still add up to quite a sum if a sound recording goes platinum.

There are only a couple of rules you have to obey in order to get this compulsory license deal. The song has to have been already released to the public (under the authorization of the copyright holder). This means that you can’t scoop someone else’s song and record it and release it before they do (unless they say you can). Also, you have to give the copyright owner notice that you’re going to cover the song. Usually, people ask for permission, as it’s considered somewhat bad form not to, but you technically don’t have to. Finally, you can’t alter the song too much.

You’ll notice that the rule “don’t do a bad job” isn’t included among the list I just provided, much to my lament. There are some pretty terrible covers out there. In some cases, the original version is so terrible that you can’t believe that the infamous version you know and loathe is actually the second cover to be released. Some alleged covers may have been unintentional. Some covers are unexpected. And, sometimes, musicians pull the equivalent of holding themselves up by doing terrible jobs essentially covering their own songs. Of course, there are plenty of good straight-up covers, too. Some are so well-known that we may forget that the original ever existed. Some covers bring an entirely new approach to a song, and transform it in a way that moves, intrigues, or delights us. Or they are just so good that you don’t quite care that they play the song fairly close to the original. (Here are some originals for comparison.)

(Is your link-clicking finger still alive? If it is fatigued, try some chocolate milk.)

But, again, this is a law blog and I should get to the point: how are we going to find chaps our size? Well, that, and one other thing. The question, my friends, is this: what happens if someone rips off a cover song? What if someone just copies some earlier performer’s interpretation of a third party’s song? Can they get away with that?

The short answer is maybe not. The long answer is going to take us another 13 paragraphs. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Go Ahead, Jump on the Jagger Wagon (But Know the Law Before You Do!)

I’m a sucker for any show that involves singing (except for, perhaps, this one). So, of course I watched the latest American Idol knockoff to hit the airwaves — The Voice. During one of the show’s episodes, Maroon 5 took the stage to debut their new single titled “Moves Like Jagger.” (CAUTION: Clicking on this hyperlink may result in a semi-ridiculous/incredibly catchy song getting stuck in your head.) Much like the title suggests, “Moves Like Jagger” pays homage to Mick Jagger’s iconic dance moves (luckily, not these dance moves).

After I heard this song for the first time (which turned into hundreds of hundreds of times as it played on loop in my head for about two days), I wondered whether Mick Jagger had any legal remedies to prevent Maroon 5 from using his name in the song title (assuming Mick did not authorize them to use his name in this way). Let’s see what Sir Michael Jagger could do if he decided to do his cocksure strut down to the courthouse. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Q&A: How Does One Determine the Copyright Status of Something Like a Radio Show?

Q: I’d like to use some audio from an old radio show. My research so far reveals the show…like many old radio shows…was never copyrighted. How does one determine the copyright status of something like a radio show?

A: Let’s first talk about where copyright law is today with respect to the need for copyright registrations. Remember those old SAT questions where they asked you to find the two pairs of things that were most alike? Well, under current U.S. copyright law, copyright registrations are to copyright owners as permanently affixed Bluetooth earpieces are to morons. You don’t have to have a copyright registration to be a copyright owner, but if you do have a registration, you’ve put the public on notice that you are, indeed, a copyright owner. Continue reading the full story . . . »