I worked briefly for a tertiary education institution creating and publishing electronic media: I wrote and edit text for websites, took photos, shot videos and made content for Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube. I recently made a video of international students at an orientation week bush dance, where they learned some daggy dances and had fun trying to understand the Australian slang in the song lyrics.
One of the songs performed by the live band was ‘Along The Road To Gundagai‘ by Jack O’Hagan, which was written in 1922. He died in 1987, and copyright law says this song remains the property of its owner until 70 years after the death of its creator. EMI Music Publishing therefore owns this song until 2057.
I was asked to make a video of the dancing. From the scenes I shot I selected the band’s live performance of this particular song, and cut shots of the students dancing to the music around shots of the band playing. I secured the band’s permission to publish their performance, and the institution secured permission from the students.
I diligently hunted down the rights owner of the song and asked for permission to feature this live performance of their song in our video, which was to feature on our website and our Youtube account. The aim is to report on and promote positive student experiences at university. It’s part of a wider communications and marketing campaign using social media. The institution I work for is not for profit and there are no commercial implications of our use of the song for it’s owner.
EMI demanded $500 + GST to allow us to use a live recording of a performance they do not own (they own the copyright of the sheet music and lyrics of the song) on the internet for only 1 year. I declined this offer and asked them to waive the fee. They refused, claiming that because we could not make an educational case for using the music (such as teaching music), our use was therefore commercial.
While I often write about the correctness of copyright law and use it to uphold my own copyrights, in this case the law results in a cultural failure. EMI gains nothing by refusing permission, and loses nothing my giving permission. Its greed and indifference to the not for profit circumstances of this case indicate that it is indifferent to my good faith in following the correct procedure in asking for permission (in this case a risk minimisation approach was essential to uphold the professional reputation of the organisation).
In moments like this I find it helpful to add a quote from one of the great moral philosophers of our age. Mr Johnny Rotten said ‘blind acceptance is a sign of stupid fools who stand in line like EMI.’ EMI’s blind acceptance of the ‘greed is good’ philosophy will be their undoing. In response, I suggest you pirate, pirate and pirate their content some more until they get what they deserve. I hypothesise that EMI will not exist as a commercial business in 2057. Their business model is already rotting away…