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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

frequently asinine questions: “Can I reprint your reviews for free?”

Time for a new feature, one that dares to answer publicly all the questions I get all the time in email and that I answer again and again in private. Plus, they make my blood boil, and why shouldn’t you all share my pain?

Here’s one that landed in my in-box this morning. The wording of it was a little different than similar emails I’ve seen before, enough so that it made my jaw drop in astonishment:

I am looking for a critic to feature in a new local art/entertainment paper I’m thinking of starting. I need a little insight on the publication of a critic’s reviews. Do I need permission from the critic? Can I publish any reviews that I find? What steps do I need to take in order to publish someone elses reviews?

Oh dear. Yes, of course you need permission to use the creative work of anyone — writer, artist, photographer, fontographer, graphic designer, programmer, whatever — unless that person has specifically waived those rights (as via a Creative Commons license, which is just granting permission in advance anyway). No, of course you cannot just take material that you find on the Net (or wherever) and do whatever you like with it.

That’s called theft.

What shocked me about this email was that while I do frequently get requests to reprint or repost my reviews, it’s only after a few go-rounds by email that it becomes clear that the person asking to do this has no intention of paying, and is indeed shocked at the idea that I would not be absolutely delighted to simply give away my work. But I’d never before been faced with the upfront suggestion that the product of a writer might up for grabs by anyone to do anything with it he or she pleased.

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  • Ha! What a jackass!

    Maybe he could just print the URL of one of your reviews as the text of his article.

    Movie Review Corner

    This week: Juno

    For a great review of Juno, go to http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2007/12/juno_review.html.

    That concludes this installment of Movie Review Corner. Thanks for reading!

  • “Anything not nailed down is mine. Anything I can pry loose is not nailed down.”

    I’d be less worried about those who come seeking permission to take my stuff for free and more about those who just take it without even asking permission. Have you ever caught someone doing that?

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, that has happened many times. And those people get indignant, too, when I request that they remove the illegally appropriated material. I should be grateful for the free publicity! What’s really ironic is that it’s almost always sites that no one is reading that think they’re offering free publicity: sites that would actually offer any meaningful exposure don’t do such things.

    Though I was plaigarized by the right-wing idiot Ben Domenech

  • Pedro

    this is a question i’ve always had:

    i’m a musician, and i play covers with my band. i KNOW we have to pay the band in order to publish a cover-song in a record, but do we need their permission to play it in concert?

    i once spoke to a (slightly) older and more experienced musician, and he said that the cover his band plays (of Metallica’s “Creeping Death”) is unbeknownst to Metallica. they do it in a “what Metallica don’t know can’t hurt them”, under-the-radar state of mind, and get away with it because they’re complete unknowns.

    so what’s the rule? does Metallica have to know EVERY time someone plays one of their songs live?

  • Pedro: Technically, yes. Any public performance of a song is supposed to be paid for.

    But I used to know someone who owned a wine bar, and they would have in live musicians to play music. (You know, jazzy wine bar-type stuff.) They would get weekly visits or phone calls from the local BMI and ASCAP reps, asking when they were going to pay royalties… they’d simply “suggest” an amount that was supposed to be appropriate based on their completely-wild ass guess of what was played.

    The owner of the wine bar asked me for advice, and I said this: “Tell them to give you a list of songs that were played that fall under their purview and the rates for each song. When they provide you said list, give it to the musician and tell them that it’s their responsibility to pay the royalties. But until the royalty association can demonstrate an actual accounting of what they’re due, no one owes them a thing.” What these guys do is tantamount to extortion; it’s like the power company coming to you and saying, “You owe us $200 this month.” “Can you show me where I used $200 worth of power?” “No, but we feel like you probably used $200 worth. Or you can pay us less if you think that’s fair. Just give us money.”

    Obviously musical performances that occur at concerts, on radio stations, for records, etc. should be accounted for properly and royalties paid to the appropriate agencies. But live performances of music in small venues, where the musician may be playing their own music or music that’s not covered by a royalty organization, should not have to face the attempted extortion which is currently employed by those organizations. You want me to pay for something you claim I used? Prove I used it.

    In MaryAnn’s case, it’s more clear-cut; people are taking her text and using it without permission. Obviously that needs to stop.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s pretty clear-cut in Pedro’s case, too: Someone is taking Metallica’s song and using it without permission. It doesn’t matter whether Metallica knows about it or not. And I simply cannot understand the attitude that a band’s music is worth listening to and worth playing but not worth paying for. That creative people are held in such disdain *even by some of their fans* is a huge problem, and at the root of piracy. I don’t know how we solve that problem.

    Whether BMI/ASCAP are going about collecting royalties in the wrong way is another issue entirely.

  • pedro

    yeah, well, put it this way:

    metallica are money-craving leeches. they’d probably demand about $ to let us play one song (remember Napster?)

    we are an up-and-coming band and we’re always broke.

    what else are we to do?

  • Pedro, that’s not how it works and I think you know it.

    If you are really concerned about your conscience, contact BMI or ASCAP and ask them what the going rate is to play ONE Metallica song in a public performance… and each time you play that song, send ’em a check for that amount.

  • MaryAnn

    we are an up-and-coming band and we’re always broke.

    Well, then, why don’t you write some catchy songs that other bands want to play, and then those bands could pay you a royalty every time they do that.

    Unless they don’t feel like it.

  • Ryan H

    Alas, I’m posting this a couple days after anyone is likely to read it.

    I know in Canada, all the bars and small venues pay a licensing fee for music played or performed. It’s collected by the same organization that collects the fees for music played over the radio. No idea if the US handles it the same way or not. Likely not. You lot just love complicating things.

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