You wouldn’t steal a movie, so why would you put stolen music on an anti-piracy ad? Dr Karl investigates a curious case of copyright theft.
If you have bought or rented a movie on a DVD sometime in the last few years, you would have had to sit through the compulsory anti-piracy video at the beginning. You know, the one with the urgent death-metal-thrash techno music in the background, and the words on the screen telling you that you wouldn’t steal a car, or a handbag, or a television, or a movie. It then goes on to tell you that: “downloading pirated movies is stealing” and furthermore that “stealing is against the law” and finishes off with the bleak message that “piracy is a crime”.
But here’s an interesting question. That insistent, driving beat music that runs all the way through that anti-piracy ad – was it paid for, or was it pirated and stolen? The uncomfortable answer is that it was stolen.
Protection of literary property probably began in Great Britain in 1710, with the so-called “British Statute of Queen Anne”. This Statute opened with the description that it was: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Publishers…”
It then pointed out that “Printers, Booksellers and Other Persons have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing… Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors…” and that this nefarious act led “to their very great Detriment, (and) too often to the Ruin of them and their Families”.
It sounds very reasonable that authors should be reimbursed for their hard work. So what’s the story behind the reportedly stolen music on your DVD’s anti-piracy ad?
Most countries have a music royalty collection agency. It monitors radio, TV and movies to make sure that musicians get paid when the music that they wrote is played. In Holland, the Dutch music royalty collection agency is called Buma/Stemra.
Back in 2006, Buma/Stemra approached a Dutch musician, Melchior Reitveldt, to write some music for an anti-piracy ad, with the strict proviso that this music would be played only and exclusively at a local film festival. Mr. Reitveldt wrote the music, it was played, he got paid and all was well.
But then, in 2007, he bought a Harry Potter DVD and to his surprise, there was his music in the anti-piracy ad at the beginning. His composition had been taken and used without his permission. In fact, it had been illegally used on dozens of movie DVDs, both in Holland and overseas. You probably have one at home right now.
So Mr. Reitveldt went to the Buma/Stemra music royalty collection agency to clear up this misunderstanding, and ran into a brick wall. Nothing happened for a long time, and then pathetically small refunds were offered, and then they weren’t paid in full, and the delaying tactics went on and on.
Finally, in 2011, about half a decade after the original theft of his music, there was a kind of a breakthrough. Supposedly, one of the directors of Buma/Stemra music royalty collection agency, Mr Jochem Gerrits, spoke to him personally, offering to speed things up. Everything would proceed nicely, if the musician, Mr. Reitveldt, would simply sell the contested piece of music to him, Mr Gerrits. The payout would be one million Euros, and Mr Gerrits would keep one third for all his trouble and hard work, and the musician, Mr. Reitveldt, would keep two thirds.
It’s a bit like having somebody steal your property, you report it to the police, and after a lot a dilly-dallying, a senior police officer approaches you offering to give two-thirds of your property back to you, if you give them one third.
Luckily, the musician recorded the conversation. The crooked director of the Buma/Stemra music royalty collection agency had to resign. In June 2012, the court ordered Buma/Stemra to repay the money.
Today, in the new world of the interweb, copyright is complicated. In the old days, if you bought a book, you could give or lend it to a friend. But it’s different now. A woman in Duluth, Minnesota did the modern equivalent by sharing 24 songs that had a total retail value of $23.76. The Recording Industry Association of America sued, and the court awarded them $222,000.
In terms of the multiplication factor, that has to be a runaway, chart-busting solid gold smash hit…