That’s What Makes You an Infringer 

Great balls of fire, Batman! Haven’t we had a historical week! President 45 was inaugurated, women’s marches happened across the globe, and we all made fun of the inaugural concerts looking nothing like a political Lollapalooza. Speaking of these musical events, as it turns out, the music industry wanted to get a hand in the controversy on Capitol Hill. We may have seen it coming, but this is one direction I certainly wasn’t expecting to go! (Wait for it, let the pun sink in.)

In addition to Three Doors Down and that one girl we all pretended the know when her face appeared on the Huffington Post, YouTube music sensation The Piano Guys played the inaugural ball. No strangers to politics, these dudes already pissed off Rachel Platten by covering “Fight Song,” Hillary Clinton’s campaign anthem. This kooky, wacky, politically incendiary group did it again this weekend by covering One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful.” Thusly, the track’s writers are, wait for it, wait for it, pissed. 

Now, of course, who wouldn’t be enraged at the fact that their intellectual property was used to promote the cause they oppose? What makes this case special is that the writers, certainly encouraged by the artist, are pursuing legal action. Wait, legal action? Yes. Legal action. 

See, the thing about this is that The Piano Guys did not have permission to use the song, invoking the wrath of an infringement clause. However, songs like “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” fall under what is called a compulsory clause, essentially saying you don’t need the artist’s permission to cover their work. To make matters stickier yet, songwriters are now employing exceptions to these compulsory clauses, especially when politics are involved. The song may fall under a compulsory clause, but it was used in an illegal setting. Hm!

Before I react, allow me to just clarify something: my ideologies are, more often than not, Libertarian, so I had beef with every candidate. But let us remember that this blog is about music business, not laissez-faire economics and machine politics.

My personal view on all this is that 1D and their hit-making writers are in the right. They did not Grant the Piano Guys permission to use their song in the setting of a political rally. The copyright law, as it stands, is complicated and confusing. But the law was designed for the very purpose of protecting intellectuals and their property. And I would really hate to be on the legal team for the Piano Guys right now, given that they may end up paying back their half-a-million dollar paycheck. 

As for the future of the industry, I definitely forsee further examining of the copyright law. It is not understood as well as it should be, it hasn’t kept up with technology, and it’s pretty old. As more stories like these appear, I think there will be a greater move to a reexamination of the law, something the business definitely and desperately needs. 

If you’d like to see the article that prompted this post, click here.

Once again, this has been the view from 214.


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