March 1, 2005

Music Copyrights and DVDs

Interesting tug of war happening now in the Big Media over the issue of copyrights. It seems that a lot of the older television shows never expected to be released on other formats such as DVDs so they negotiated the rights to the music used for television broadcast only. Well, boomer fans want their old shows on DVD at home so they can watch them. The Big Media would love to comply, after all, it has the tapes and Kinescopes sitting in their own vaults. Only problem is that the copyright holders of the music are saying Unh Unh... You never stipulated distribution, only television broadcast. Give us more money. Considering that it is the Big Media who are making such stuck-pig noises about piracy, the Irony is delicious... A warm feeling of schadenfreude is creeping over me. A classic example of this is the hit show WKRP (more info here at IMDB) This page: A Guide To Music Changes In "WKRP IN CINCINNATI" has the story:
If you've watched "WKRP In Cincinnati" on the Comedy Network in Canada, or on TNN in the United States, or on the commercial videotapes released in 1998, then you may have noticed that some of the music has been changed. You may have also noticed some dialogue changes, as in one episode that now has a nonsense line ("Hold my order, terrible dresser") replacing a quote from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." This page will try to explain what's happened to the music on "WKRP," and why. Originally, nearly all the music played on the show was real rock music by real artists, both in "WKRP"'s CBS run and in the subsequent syndicated reruns. But in the last few years, a new package of "WKRP" episodes has been distributed, and much of the music has been replaced by generic instrumental music from a music library, or by sound-alike "fake" songs. Also, some of the dialogue has been redubbed by voice impersonators, usually when the actors were speaking over the music, but sometimes to remove references to songs that have been replaced. Since these "redubbed" versions of "WKRP" first appeared, the questions that have most often been asked are: 1) Who did this? 2) Why was the music replaced? 3) How come some stations still show "WKRP" with the original music? 4) Which episodes have had songs replaced? 1) WHO DID THIS? Well, it's not the station showing WKRP, that's for sure. Back when Nick at Nite was broadcasting "WKRP," there were a lot of internet posts blaming Nick at Nite for changing the music, but in fact Nick at Nite was merely showing the tapes of WKRP they were sent; ditto for the Comedy Network and TNN. The music changes were made by the company that distributes WKRP. As to *which* company that is, that's a bit complicated. WKRP was produced by MTM Enterprises, but in the mid-'90s MTM was bought out by Pat Robertson's International Family Entertainment (which also owned the Family Channel in the U.S.), and then in 1997 International Family Entertainment was bought by 20th Century-Fox. Fox soon shut down the struggling MTM Enterprises. So currently Fox owns the rights to WKRP, and since the "redubbed" versions did not start to appear until the videotape set in 1998, a year after Fox bought MTM, I think it's quite possible that the music changes were made by Fox (other MTM shows, like "St. Elsewhere," also had some music changed around this time). But on the other hand, it's equally possible that the changes were made while MTM was the nominally independent but financially-strapped property of International Family Entertainment. If anyone knows for sure when the music changes were made and by whom, please write and tell me. 2) WHY WAS THE MUSIC REPLACED? The simple answer is: Money. The reason WKRP was shot on videotape (unlike the other MTM sitcoms like "Bob Newhart" and "Mary Tyler Moore," which were on film) was that it was the only way they could afford to use a lot of real rock songs on the show. At the time, ASCAP had a different licensing arrangement for taped shows than for filmed shows; licensing the music for WKRP cost something like half of what it would have cost had it been filmed. Well, the music licenses expired by the time the show was being prepared for re-distribution in the mid-'90s, and by then ASCAP no longer had a "discount" for videotaped shows. Also by then, the cost of licensing songs had skyrocketed across the board. So it would have been prohibitively expensive for the distributor to re-license all the songs used on the show. They certainly could have done a better job of replacing the songs they couldn't pay for, but it was inevitable that some of the songs would be gone due to rising costs, and that's all there is to it. Strangely enough, sometimes music has been replaced even when it was generic music to begin with! Generic music was occasionally used on the show, mainly for fake commercials, but since the new distributors probably no longer knew exactly where some of that generic music came from (and since even stuff from a music library has to be paid for), they frequently replaced it with generic music from their own music library. This of course is not as bad as replacing real music, but I'll note it when it happens.
There is a good bit more on the website and it is really interesting reading... And this leads up to? An article in Wired Magazine: The article starts off covering the issue with WKRP and then has this gem of a few paragraphs buried in the middle. All the emphases are mine:
DVD sales are credited with driving studio growth, and TV shows on DVD have been a surprise -- and lucrative -- market, according to a September 2004 Merrill Lynch report. The report estimates that consumer spending on TV DVDs will grow from $2.3 billion in 2004 to $3.9 billion in 2008. But serious fans want the whole show, not mangled scenes missing critical music. "The fans don't want syndicated cuts. They don't want the songs replaced. They don't want anything censored for political correctness. They want to see it in the way they originally saw it broadcast, enjoyed it and fell in love with it," Lambert said. "You can almost always count on some music replacement. We've got entire theme songs being replaced." There are plenty of examples, he said. The original theme song for the show Married ... With Children -- "Love and Marriage" sung by Frank Sinatra -- was replaced on the third-season DVD. Fans also complained when the song "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues was missing from a critical scene in the Wiseguy DVD set. The second-season DVD sets of Quantum Leap and Northern Exposure both contain noticeable music replacements. And DVD distributors don't always reveal on the box cover that music has been replaced, either. Only selected episodes from the first season of Ally McBeal have been released in the United States because of the high cost of music licensing. But in the United Kingdom, where different licensing deals have been struck, viewers can order all five seasons of the show. "I think the studios are a bit shortsighted," Lambert said. "A lot of fans -- if they understood the situation -- would gladly wait a little longer and pay a little more to get the complete, original version."
Like I said -- the Irony is wonderful... Posted by DaveH at March 1, 2005 7:22 PM