Tag Archives: music

How will United Airlines respond to getting pwned by songwriter?

Musician Dave Carroll was traveling on United Airlines when his guitar was severely damaged by baggage handlers. His efforts over nine months to get compensation from the airline having failed, he is turning to the internet and his songwriting to shame the company instead. His pledge: three songs and videos about his experience to be released online. His first is out now, called “United Breaks Guitars“:

Interestingly, by launching this campaign against United, Dave is updating a similar campaign against the now defunct Republic Airlines by folk legend Tom Paxton. Back in 1984 or ’85, if memory serves (and this is the first time in a while that the internet fails me for this type of fact), Paxton played at the Northwind Folk Festival on Centre Island in Toronto. I was about 11 years old and getting ready to go to summer camp in Wisconsin. I was flying Republic Airlines and planning to bring my guitar, so it made a strong impression on me when Paxton performed his song Thank You, Republic Airlines, which retells a similar story:


Thank you Republic Airlines
What a joy to a musician you are
What a zest you’ve added to pedestrian skies
It was boring to be flying where the wild goose flies
But the tedium was broken by your wonderful surprise
when you broke the neck on my guitar


Paxton’s song ends with these prophetic words: “There could no satisfaction greater than if / you should be the next to go the way of Braniff.” [Braniff International Airways having gone bankrupt in 1982] Sure enough, Republic Airlines was purchased in 1986 by Northwest Orient to become Northwest Airlines (which merged with Delta last year). Paxton’s song was played on the Dr. Demento Show on September 28, 1986, certainly as a tribute to the merger which was to be completed later that week. Thank You, Republic Airlines appears on Paxton’s album One Million Lawyers and Other Disasters.

I like that Dave Carroll pledged three songs, not just one. That gives United time either to squirm or to respond. I gave a talk last week at the OCRI Entrepreneurship Centre in Ottawa about how social media requires companies to rethink their traditional legal strategies, and this situation might be a perfect example of that. Dave’s campaign is a new type of customer activism that involves his audience in his difficulty with the airline. When we watch/tweet/blog/forward his video, we become invested in his experience with the company. United needs to recognize that involvement and fashion a response that addresses it.

In my presentation, I talked about three possible responses to a situation like this. The first possible response is a traditional, conservative, black letter law response, or even an overreaching legal response — maybe United threatens to sue Dave Carroll for trade-mark infringement for using their name, or they ask YouTube to take down the video. This approach is almost bound to backfire since the audience is now involved and feels attacked.

The second possible response recognizes that the customer’s complaint is much more visible than ever before, and aims to stop it as quickly as possible. Given that more people have already seen Dave’s video, heard the song, and know the story than probably ever heard Tom Paxton’s song, it is important for the company to put a lid on it as soon as possible, so this is an improvement over the classic legal approach. And it may achieve the airline’s goal — perhaps they can get Dave Carroll not to release two more songs if they give him enough in return.

That second response, however, ignores the audience, and leaves lots of people hanging without their own resolution of the issue. I tell companies that they need to go even further than recognizing the customer’s new-found power to reach an audience. Not only does the social media environment present new challenges like Youtube videos by upset customers, it also presents new opportunities to respond. United should be looking for a response that engages Dave’s video and his audience and turn this into a promotional opportunity.

The fact that Dave Carroll is going to release three videos means that this will unfold over an extended period of time. I’m going to be watching United’s response as each video comes out — if they’re smart, they’ll find a way to bring Dave and his new audience on board before that last video hits the internet.

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Is music downloading copyright infringement in Canada?

There’s some sparring going on in the copyright world between Michael Geist and Richard Pfohl of the Canadian Recording Industry Association. In a June 8, 2009 article “slaying” Canadian file-sharing myths, Michael Geist stated, “The law… opens the door to some legalized music downloading, but it does not cover other content (movies or software) or the uploading of any content.”

In response, Richard Pfohl wrote in a June 12 letter to the editor, “Downloading pirated music is not legal in Canada.”

Who’s right? Copyright lawyer Howard Knopf sorts it out:


So – copying unauthorized sound recordings obtained via P2P onto a 120 GB iPod Classic, for example, where the hard drive memory is permanently embedded (don’t even think about trying to take it out!) may indeed be infringing – because the iPod as a whole is a “device” and not a medium subject to the levy.

However, a PC internal hard drive that is not “permanently embedded” and particularly an external plug and play hard drive that is clearly not in any sense “embedded” in anything and serves no function other than to be a large memory medium may very well be “audio recording media.” In that case, downloading any sound recording onto them obtained in any way from any source for private use would be legal in Canada, regardless of whether a levy has ever been sought from the Copyright Board. This follows from what the Copyright Board said in 2003 at page 20-21 of this famous decision [PDF] and, contrary to Mr. Pfohl’s assertion, no Canadian Court has ever ruled to the contrary.
[emphasis from Mr. Knopf]


That’s right: That dedicated music device you have? The one that comes with software for ripping CDs and is sold by Apple, owner of the world’s biggest music store? It’s copyright infringement to download music and put it on that device. In fact, it’s copyright infringement to rip your own CDs if you’re putting them on your iPod or other mp3 player.

But an external hard drive that can’t play back music? That’s not embedded media, so it may not be infringement to download or rip music and save it there. Such is the paradox of copyright law in Canada today.

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Finding Free music to play in your shop

Suppose you own a bookstore or a cafe, or maybe you’re a dentist or you own a hair salon. You probably play music in your shop, cafe or clinic. Are you infringing copyright when you play that music? Are artists collecting royalties for the music you play? And if you want to make sure you’re on the right side of the law, what are your options?


Canadian Copyright law

You can read the Copyright Act if you’re interested — it’s not that bad a read, really. But basically what you need to understand is that the artist who wrote a song has exclusive rights to reproduce and perform that song. And the people who recorded it also have exclusive rights in the recording itself; only the recording company can reproduce the recording (which is subtly different from reproducing the song). Any time you take out a guitar and play a song, you’re performing that song. And if you play a CD or plug an iPod into your sound system and play Abba’s Super Trouper on repeat (something my kids love doing), you’re performing the sound recording.

Now, playing the song in private is not infringement, and there is even a special exemption in Canada that allows us to make copies of sound recordings for our own private use under certain circumstances. But if you are playing songs in your shop, cafe or clinic, or anywhere else where the public can hear it, then you are infringing the copyright in that recording unless you have permission from the artist.


You can pay for permission

One way to get permission from the artist is to buy a licence from SOCAN, the collective society that represents musicians in Canada. It’s not outrageously expensive either: less than 12 cents per square foot, so it will cost about $230 to buy a licence to play commercial music in your 2000 square foot operation.


Or you can get permission for free!

It turns out there are a lot of artists out there who first and foremost want their music to be heard, and they have chosen to give broad permission to anybody and everybody to use their songs and recordings. You generally won’t find these artists on commercial radio, or even at most music stores. After all, many of them operate on small budgets and distribute their music online instead of paying to press discs.

And to make sure you know that you have their permission, many of these artists use a much more permissive, standard form licence that they get from Creative Commons. There are a range of Creative Commons licences, some of which are extremely permissive: if a song is under the CC-BY licence, you can copy, perform, transmit and even adapt and remix the work, as long as you give the original artist credit. Some CC licences are much more restrictive: if a song is under the CC-BY-NC-ND licence, you can copy, perform and transmit the work, but you can’t change it at all (the ND means No Derivatives) and you can’t use it for commercial purposes (the NC means Non Commercial).

So CC licensed music is a great source of free music to play to your customers or clients, but you have two challenges: finding CC licensed music, and making sure the music you pick is under a licence that allows commercial use.

There are a growing number of places to find CC licensed music online, but one of the best is Jamendo. It has a great selection of CC licensed music from around the world in all different styles, very well organized and searchable. To find the music under Creative Commons licences, click the Music tab on Jamendo and then the Creative Commons link in the orange bar under the tabs. On the right of the page, you can search by tags, but if you leave the tags field blank you can just check the box that says “allow commercial use”, and you’ll get all of the music on Jamendo that is under CC licences that allow commercial use — or just click here to go straight to those search results! You can also limit the results by country — here are the Canadian albums that you can play to your customers for free.


Podcasts and free music

Podcasts are a bit of a special case since as a podcaster you are not only performing recordings but also transmitting them to the public, and making them available for people to download. If you’re a podcaster and you’re interested in using free music or other content, check out the Podcasting Legal Guide for Canada.


Supporting artists

There are different ways to support musicians. SOCAN distributes royalties to artists from licensed performances and album sales. If you like an artist who uses CC licences and you want to support them, you can usually choose to pay for their music as well. For instance, you’ll find the latest album by Brad Sucks on Jamendo, but you can also buy it at his website. Or, if you’re into remixing music, you can download the source master recordings of each track, have your way with it (so to speak), and upload it to ccMixter.


Success stories?

Are you an artist who uses Creative Commons licences for your music? Do you run a cafe or shop or someplace else that plays music to your customers or clients? If you have a success story about using Free music, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment!

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