The 'Hey Jude' Replacement Ref Protest Plan: Turning Copyright Maximalism Against Itself

from the a-takedown-that-takes-itself-down dept

Even if you don't follow football (the American version), you've probably heard some discussion concerning the replacement referees who had stepped in to officiate games while the real refs sorted out their labor dispute with the NFL. If there had been even a modicum of competence, chances are most non-NFL fans would still be blissfully unaware that Green Bay and Seattle played a game recently, much less one that was decided by a call blown so badly that b-list writers began cobbling together "amateur night at the brothel" analogies. Also, the idea that the real refs, upon returning, actually got what was perhaps the first ever standing ovation for refs should tell you something about just how bad the replacements were.

A couple of days before the NFL reached an agreement with the real referees, Mike Tanier (writer for Football Outsiders and formerly the only thing worth reading at the New York Times Fifth Down blog) whipped up an idea to shut down the replacement refs before any more damage was done. The scheme relied on crowd participation, the intricacies of public performance rights and a band whose catalog was once referred to (by a b-lister) as being about as approachable as a "badger covered in live hand grenades."
Go to the game. If you are a Chargers, Jaguars or Bengals fan, this involves purchasing a ticket and driving to the stadium. There are websites that teach you how to do these things. Anyway, once there, wait for the replacement officials to make an idiotic call or lapse into one of their marathon delays. When it happens, start singing:

Nah nah nah na-na-na-nah, na-na-na-nah, Hey Jude!

Beatles copyrights (held mostly by Paul McCartney and the estate of John Lennon) and publishing rights (held by Paul, Sony/ATV publishing, and possibly by one or two of Michael Jackson’s former chimpanzees) are among the most closely guarded music rights in the world. “Hey Jude” is the most preciously protected song in the Beatles catalogue. Everyone knows it, and it is easy for a huge crowd to sing, as Paul himself proved when he led Olympic fans in a chorus of a song first recorded 15 years before their parents reached puberty.

If the crowd at an NFL game sings “Hey Jude,” television networks will be stuck broadcasting “Hey Jude” without the rights-holders permission. The sound editors are pretty good at obscuring the B.S. chant, but that only takes a little bit of white noise. Try editing away one of the most recognizable melodies in the world on live television. The broadcast will sound like it is coming from Venus. But if the NFL doesn’t drown out the singing, someone big and powerful is going to show up at league headquarters in a suing mood.

Faced with the choice of a battle against Big Music Publishing and the fourth most beloved human on earth (wedged between Ron Howard and … wow … T.J. Lang) or negotiating fairly with the referees, the NFL will be left with no choice. The lockout will end, thanks to you and the Cute Beatle.

I am no copyright lawyer, and there are probably holes in this master plan. But if the NFL can publish a mix of lies and obfuscations and call it an “explanation,” then I can publish this and call it a “solution.”
Tanier may not be a copyright lawyer, but he does certainly understand the stupidity that often masquerades as "needless complexity" in the copyright system. While the stadium would likely have a blanket license to cover the not-very-spontaneous "performance" of a Beatles' tune, the NFL's broadcast would likely be short a sync license.

Those watching the game on broadcast TV would probably be unaffected, but those watching a livestream might find their gridiron action replaced with the soothing images of Heidi doing something Alps-related, or a more familiar message informing them that the stream has been taken down due to copyright claims by Michael Jackson's chimpanzees.

While most of us would find a somewhat spontaneous singalong to fall under "fair use" or at the very least "nothing to get hung about," people singing songs out loud for non-commercial reasons is apparently Very Serious Business. BMG takes down a clip of Obama singing an Al Green song. EMI takes down a clip of a drunk guy singing a Queen song. A Slovak performance rights organization bills a village for singing folk songs about itself. Bourne Music Publishers demands $2,000 from a 10-year-old girl for singing a theme song to a Charlie Chaplin movie for charity.

It's an obviously facetious post but there's enough truth to the farcical situation to make it seem tenable. Expansion of IP protection hasn't resulted in any great declines in infringement and has criminalized several activities that most people feel would fall under "fair use." As Tanier's very humorous hypothetical situation points out, IP maximalist enforcement has a tendency to do more damage to itself that its intended targets. And by all means, read through Tanier's entire post, which also covers such enjoyable oddities as New Jersey legislators insinuating themselves into the replacement ref debacle and the NFL being covered on NPR of all places.
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Filed Under: beatles, copyright, hey jude, nfl refs, replacements
Companies: nfl

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  1. icon
    Tunnen (profile), 28 Sep 2012 @ 2:17pm

    I liked the Daily Show clip, shown earlier this week, joking about the NFL referee thing. The correspondents went on strike, so Patrick Steward filled in as a replacement corespondent for Jon Oliver. =P

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