Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lyrics as body painting

Dear Rich: Some students of mine are working on an anti music piracy advertising campaign intended to encourage students to download legally -- that illegal downloading is more than just stealing, it's a poor reflection on your character. The visuals in the ad show a person looking at themselves in a mirror. Written all over their body are recognizable phrases from songs, " Hey Jude" "I can't get no satisfaction" etc. The pay-off line is, "Illegal downloading, it's written all over your face." My question, is it actually illegal to use the snippets of songs written on the face of the person? Is that copyright infringement? First of all, we just want you to know that the Dear Rich Staff got in a whole lot of trouble during this photo shoot as the makeup we used was a little 'wetter' than we thought and left a reverse impression on our couch. We tried hiding it with a pillow and then spent a ridiculous amount of time Googling "eye makeup stain removal" but most of our results required dry cleaning fluids and ammonia. That's definitely not going to fly here at Dear Rich Staff headquarters. And anyway, where are we supposed to get dry cleaning fluids and ammonia at 6:30 in the evening? So our first bit of advice is to be careful if you're shooting this video at your Mom's house. 
Right, you had a question. Without thinking about the law (whew, that's a relief), we have to ask ourselves, considering that about 95% of music downloads are illegal, would any music publisher hassle someone who was making a video to prevent music from being stolen? Can you imagine the PR fiasco if that got out? Or as our niece would say, 'What an embarrassment!' So, strictly from that POV, you shouldn't have a problem with your video.
Copyright is on your side. Copyright doesn't protect short phrases so that's working for you as well. Arguably, a music publisher could argue that you've taken more than a short phrase; you've taken the "heart" of the composition and on that basis, it's a literal infringement. We doubt that will fly since you're not taking the music, and because you're compiling a bunch of short phrases, not merely highlighting one. Finally, you have a pretty strong fair use argument since your use is sort of transformative (you're using the phrases to say something about piracy). So all in all, we think the copyright gods would bless your use. We'd love to blabber on but we have to go check the Drain/Spin cycle.