Commercial music in TV ads - copyright issues

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by Tony, May 11, 2004.

  1. Tony

    Tony Guest

    I'm wondering:

    Does the local cable company often/sometimes/ever have a blanket license
    (with the RIAA or BMI/ASCAP) to use commercially recorded music in the TV
    ads they produce for their clients?

    I'm asking because my local company is constantly running commercials with
    commercial music (Du Hast, for example). The latest is an ad using the "THX"
    chord (BTW, is that copyrightable?). I know that *I* certainly can't put
    that sort of thing in my client's commercials due to the expense of
    licensing. I know the cable company isn't charging for licensing of the
    music, so I'm wondering if they get some sort of free ride, or if they're
    just being stupid and putting the music out there illegally?

    And don't tell me to call and ask - I have yet to get a straight answer out
    of them about anything. I'm the competition as far as they're concerned.
    Tony, May 11, 2004
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  2. Tony

    Jay Rose CAS Guest

    Absolutely never. ASCAP and BMI only administer performance licenses,
    which cover playing the song in public or over the media. RIAA is an
    industry association (or rapacious monster) that doesn't administer
    rights, but occasionally threatens to sue as a service for the copyright

    What the local cable company is doing requires a sync license from the
    song's composer and lyricist (often through the song's publisher), and a
    master license from the recording's owner (often the label).

    They are blatantly infringing. However it seems the music industry doesn't
    want to get the media upset with them, so the RIAA or individual copyright
    holders rarely even both cable or broadcast stations about this. (They're
    satisfied to threaten suit against grandmothers instead.)
    Stupid like a fox.

    Actually, they could be stupid like a Homer. I create tv promo tracks for
    hundreds of radio stations around the country. Most of them realize they
    need to clear the music, and do it at the same time they're clearing any
    music video clips they want to use. But some GMs insist the use is covered
    by their annual ASCAP fee (it definitely isn't). So we have them indemnify
    us, as part of the production contract.
    Jay Rose CAS, May 11, 2004
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  3. I guess also depends on the cable company.
    As you know Warner Bros owns a cable company now known as Time-Warner.

    I guess RIAA would not want to sue their own client.
    TheWanderer™, May 12, 2004
  4. Producers of commercial spots (radio or TV) pay for the music
    used on a widely-varying scale (very little for cheap produciton
    music for local use at one end of the scale, and $$$$$$$ for a
    famous pop song for national use at the expensive end of the scale.)
    They also pay for the voice talent, writing, etc. etc. etc. Remember
    that most of the live streaming of radio stations on the net was
    shut down by the issue of additional residual payments to the
    actors/voice talent in the commercials.

    I would think that the cable company has a blanket license with
    ASCAP and/or BMI (and maybe SESAC as well).
    Is it the *cable company* or "cable access"?
    Yes, the THX sound is copyright protected (AFAIK). Seems
    unlikely they are using it legally unless it is a spot for home
    theatre (THX) equipment or something.
    I'd assume they are either being stupid, or else they have a blanket
    license from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC as most conventional broadcast
    radio and TV stations do. Remember that if they are a large
    national chain they might have a blanket license at the corporate
    And besides, the telepone receptionist likely has no idea who
    in the organization takes care of such legal issues. It is most
    likely someone far away in the corporate headquarters.
    Richard Crowley, May 12, 2004
  5. Tony

    Tony Guest

    Something that covers local production?
    These spots are produced by the local production department of the cable
    Now, on that matter - wouldn't that amount to unfair competition vs. local
    video production companies who can't get the same deal? We're talking about
    LOCAL productions here - things done for $1000 or less and being aired for
    I never bother with the receptionist - but the production folk are reticent,
    at best, to talk about this sort of stuff.
    Tony, May 12, 2004
  6. Sure. Something that covers the all the activities of the corporation
    in the US and territories I would expect.
    How is that any different from any other case of small local business
    competing with large national corporations? In any business you can
    think of from catering to waste disposal. Local business stay afloat
    by offering something the big guys cant't. You just have to figure out
    what their deficiencies are and fill the niche.
    And that is what production music was created for.
    I'd guess that they are either running "bare" and are in denial,
    or else they are covered by a corporate blanket licence and
    never have to think about it.
    Richard Crowley, May 13, 2004
  7. Tony

    Ryan Boni Guest

    Just a side question:
    Are you talking about the synthesizer sweep that normally accompanies the
    THX logo?

    What's bizarre about that is that same exact sweep is the intro of a song
    ("Countdown to Zero") by the group Asia on their 1985 album Astra. So I'm
    curious if
    Lucas bought the rights to that effect from the band or what?? Might be
    cheaper to licence from Asia than from THX

    It almost sounds like a typical production music bumper/sound effects track.
    I'm curious how exactly you could copyright a sound like that? Obviously
    now that it's associated with a company, it can be. But I don't know if you
    can copyright a synthesizer sweep. The actual recording of it, yes. But if
    you created the same thing on your own synthesizer, would that be a
    copyright infringement? Not sure. That would be like Bob's Music Company
    going out an recording traffic noise and copyrighting it. Then you go out
    and record your own traffic noise and Bob's Music Company sues you for
    copyright infringement. Sounds like we need a lawyer to enter the

    Oh yeah, to answer the original question. I would seriously doubt that the
    cable company has a blanket license from ASCAP or BMI for advertising and if
    they do, it's for spots they produce themselves, not for others that air on
    their service. I was always told that exact same story when I started work
    at the Community Television station. "Yeah, you can play any copywritten
    song on the Public Access Station, because the cable company has a blanket
    ASCAP/BMI licence." I not for a second believed that and pulled the plug on
    all of our uses of copywritten music and bought production music (which I
    found has gotten significantly better in the last 5 years for the
    inexpensive buy-out production music, especially when I found out about the
    Gene Michael Productions library.)


    Ryan Boni
    Public Access Director
    Peters Township Community Television
    McMurray, PA
    Ryan Boni, May 13, 2004
  8. Tony

    Tony Guest

    Didn't say it was any different. Had a similar discussion regarding Wal-Mart
    recently. The little guy just has to be better, which, IMO, we are.

    That doesn't mean I can't bitch about it, though ;)
    Or college students...
    Tony, May 13, 2004
  9. Tony

    MSu1049321 Guest

    The cable company is almost certainly NOT covered as well as they think they
    are. The smaller the operation, the more blatant the offenses usually are, and
    it's worse in local radio, where i heard a number of spots for a local sub shop
    that were ripping off Bugs Bunny and other warner brothers cartoon characters
    by name and audio likeness (and no impersonation disclaimers either).

    A suitably determined person could probably make lots of easy money calling
    these out and notifying the copyright owners, for a fee.
    MSu1049321, May 14, 2004
  10. I doubt it, I contacted the BSA about a reward. They said none and I hung up
    on them.
    TheWanderer™, May 14, 2004
  11. Tony

    Jay Rose CAS Guest

    Why would the Business Software Alliance care about music copyrights?

    RIAA, the Rights societies, and individual copyright owners might be
    interested... but as I pointed out earlier, many have been historically
    reluctant to go after media. (Though the copyright piece I wrote for DV a
    year ago includes a case of Rogers & Hammerstein coming down pretty
    heavily on Entertainment Tonight for an infringement...)
    Jay Rose CAS, May 14, 2004
  12. Tony

    Tony Guest

    Selective enforcement?
    Tony, May 14, 2004
  13. Tony

    Jay Rose CAS Guest

    It's not enforcement; it's civil suits. And the suits in charge of them
    strategize where they're likely to have the most impact.

    In the ET case, the producers had clearly goofed by not clearing a song
    before it broadcast... and it was with custom lyrics and with images in
    sync, so the individual stations' ASCAP licenses had nothing to do with
    it. In the words of the attorney who was Paramount's (ET's production
    company) veep of music business affairs at the time, "they were able to
    extract many tens of thousands of dollars".

    In the case of a local cable company, it's probably not worth their effort
    to alienate the large media conglomerate that owns the cable company.

    In the case of little old ladies whose nephews download mp3s without their
    knowledge, it's probably a calculated decision to frighten people. Or to
    impress their highers-up.
    Jay Rose CAS, May 15, 2004
  14. Tony

    Tony Guest

    It's corporate enforcement of their copyright. IMO, it is selective, because
    of how hard it would be for them to take on a cable company, versus a
    teenager downloading songs off the internet. The cable company has better

    It may be a good business decision, but it's also selective enforcement,
    even if it is via civil suits.
    Tony, May 15, 2004
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