By Alan Graner
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information below is of a general nature. For definitive answers consult a copyright attorney.
Sing “Happy Birthday,” go to jail
Well, not really.
But if you sing “Happy Birthday” at your child’s next birthday party, you do so at your own peril because the song is copyrighted—that’s right, copyrighted—by Warner Music Group. And said Group collects some $2 million per year in license fees. Will you pay the royalty to sing the song to your kids? Or will you chance not getting caught?
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Actually I shouldn’t use that “Dirty Harry” line because I could be sued for copyright infringement.
Don’t believe me?
Recently Sony Pictures was sued for violating copyright by the literary estate of Nobel laureate William Faulkner. It seems a character in the studio’s Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” quoted a line from Requiem for a Nun without the estate’s permission. In a separate case they sued Northrop Grumman Corp. and The Washington Post Co. for using a Faulkner quote in an ad—again, without permission.
But wait! There’s more!
Remember George Harrison’s #1 hit “My Sweet Lord”? So did Bright Tunes, which claimed the ex-Beatle stole the melody from The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine.” Harrison was found guilty of subconscious plagiarism.
Want to share tunes with your friends? So did Joel Tenenbaum. The Boston University student was convicted violating copyright by downloading and stealing 30 songs off the Internet and distributing them to friends (he actually downloaded thousands). The jury ordered him to pay damages of $22,500 for each song, a total of $675,000. He appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, stating he shouldn’t be fined because he didn’t make any money distributing the music. He lost.
Hey, how about doing a little magic trick like, say, cutting leaves and petals off a rose’s shadow. If you like that illusion, Dutch magician Gerard Bakardy will sell it to you for only $3,000. Well, he used to. Unfortunately for Bakardy, Teller (of Penn & Teller magic fame) copyrighted the illusion and sued him. Bakardy was forced to cease and desist.
Let’s play violate copyright at work
The boss wants a quick summary of Guatemala’s economy. No problem, you think. Just go to Guatemala’s website and copy the information there. Right? Wrong! Copyright violation.
Think that photo of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate and holding down her dress would look great on your blog? Don’t. Copyright violation.
Find a great chart from a news source that perfectly illustrates your main point in your PowerPoint presentation? Uh uh. Copyright violation
Wouldn’t your YouTube video sound really dynamic with the theme music from “Star Wars” playing in the background? Then be prepared for the wrath of George Lucas (and now Disney Corp.) to crush you into the asphalt for copyright infringement.
Let’s get real
The chances are pretty good you won’t get caught if you steal the Marilyn Monroe photo or use the “Star Wars” theme or copy William Faulkner for non-commercial use.
If you are caught, be prepared to pay a hefty fee for usage rights. We’re talking hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for illegally using copyrighted material.
Still feel lucky?
*This is a paraphrase of a line from the game Monopoly®, which is a registered trademark of Parker Brothers.
If you’ve had your work ripped off, I’d like to hear your story.
Next: What is a copyright?
Image: William Pyne
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA marketing communications firm. For steadfast and ethical PR campaigns that get results, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.