Sunday, July 10, 2005

I'm in the wrong business

A few days ago I watched a dance DVD. A couple was teaching to the lamest, cheesiest $50 Casio organ music I had ever heard. Alright, I know it costs money to license music, but I had no idea just how much of a racket it was.

"Mad Hot Ballroom" is a documentary about a ballroom dance program in NY elementary schools. Of course that means that they used a lot of music, and much of it was expensive. This article tells about it. Consider this:
Stay Free!: There's a scene where a woman's cell phone rings and she has the "Rocky" theme ring tone. I noticed that you even cleared that! I would have thought that could be an example of fair use.

Sewell: I thought so too. It's only six seconds! But our lawyer said we needed to clear it. So I called Sprint, which owns the ring tone master rights, and they gave it to me for free because they saw it as product placement. But then I called EMI, which owns the publishing rights and they asked for $10,000. I said no way--even the classics weren't getting that much. Luckily, we were able to get it for less.

Stay Free!: How much did it cost for the average song?

Sewell: It depends on how many entities are attached to it. Our typical total cost for a classic was about $15,000-20,000, split between publisher and master rights. With the Rocky theme, the publishers didn't want to overexpose the song. That was the issue with Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack" as well.

and this
Stay Free!: Were there any scenes you had to cut out of the film because of copyright?

Sewell: When we were down shooting the boys playing foosball, Ronnie yelled out, "Everybody dance now!" Just when I think we've finished the film, someone points out that we have to clear that because it's a "visual vocal cue." So I went back to the publishers, and the first publisher, Spirit, says they'll throw it in with the other things we've cleared if Warner Chappell throws it in. But Warner Chappell said, "Look, we've cut you some nice deals, we can't give this to you." They said this three-second bit would cost $5,000. And since they had Most Favored Nation status it would have raised the cost on similar uses, like the Rocky ring-tone. So I went back to lawyer and said we should keep it in because this should be a poster child for fair use. But he didn't recommend taking on the music industry. Those corporations have too much money for us to play Norma Rae our first time out.
Good grief.

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