Thursday, June 5, 2008

Copyrights Might Kill Our Hockey Song

The CBC has decided not to renew its contract with the composer of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. All across Canada, hockey fans are bowing their heads and pumping their fists in anger. To many, it's almost like saying that the country is going to replace its National Anthem. So why the reason behind the decision?

Many reports state that the network has simply decided to "move in a new direction". But others have dug up information about a lawsuit the composer filed against CBC based on the unauthorized use of the tune beyond the scope of the original license agreement. Reportedly, CBC has license to use the song, composed by Dolores Claman in 1968 and used in partnership with the sport since then, in all Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts in Canada. So when the network decided to use it in the UK, and in "various other productions", Claman cried violation.

In an age where music composers are trying desperately to get their creations heard and recognized, isn't this situation slightly insulting? What has music come to when an inspirational tune that has brought joy to millions of Canadian citizens for 40 years could be lost because the creator did not get every penny of her $500/air play agreement? We'd be naive to think that money isn't a motivator (and a necessity) in music: one needs to be compensated in order to have the means to keep the creative juices flowing. But after 40 years, one could argue that the copyright for that song belongs to Canada, not to Claman. You'd hope she'd be proud of this, but apparently not so, seeking $2.5 million in "damages".

But on the flip side, if CBC's decision to squash the tune is in direct response of her actions (the new license deal supposedly included the exact same terms as always, with no increase in price or difference in usage rights), then they aren't any better than Claman. Granted, $2.5 million is a large sum, not to mention legal fees if the network fights the suit. But is the money worth it to keep Canadian viewers happy?

It's clear that issues of copyright and DRM as a whole aren't helping foster creativity nor secure the rights of music owners. It's just, more and more, being used as a means to grab money from individuals and companies. Meanwhile, we have struggling artists giving their music away online who would kill for the kind of positive association that this theme song has (or perhaps had?) If only music were still about bringing joy to people and not cashing in every way one can...

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Lloyd said...

The periods of copyright protection afforded under the most recent US law (the Sonny Bono Act) are ridiculous and draconian, but the underlying principle of protection is still valid.

My take on the lawsuit is that CBC appropriated Ms. Claman's work and used it in an unauthorized fashion as if it was their own. Perhaps they honestly believed they owned it outright -- it should, after all, have been commissioned by the ad agency that produced Hockey Night in the '60s as a work for hire.

But CBC didn't do its homework, and proceeded to use the theme in ways it was not entitled to. Look, if I borrow your car and drive it into a wall, you'd be some kind of pissed, and you'd have a right to be. This concept seems to be easily understood when we're talking about physical property, but gets nebulous when we're talking about something as abstract as a musical composition.

There has been a tendency to blame the composer for the dispute. I think the CBC's conduct of late (signing on to air The One, acquiring Canadian rights to Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, whatever the heck it is that they plan to do with Radio 2) show that management is tone-deaf and rudderless.

The proposed contest for a new theme has the fingerprints of some American broadcast consultancy all over it. I'm mildly surprised they aren't planning to build a "reality" series around it.

Lee_D said...

Today's announcement that CTV has scooped the rights to the iconic theme reduces CBC's attempt at a contest to create a new song to the level of sad farce.