Friday, November 20, 2009
Steele v. Turner Broadcasting, Major League Baseball, The Boston Red Sox, Bon Jovi
( I sat on a panel discussing Orphan Works last month and listed those "organizations" that support the passing of the bill. Bart Steele joined the panel midway to talk about his case. While those of us on the panel outlined what Orphan Works is and how easy it will become to borrow and create derivative works, Bart Steele's example also highlights how hard it is today, given current copyright law to protect your work. Ken)
Bart Steele, a songwriter living in Chelsea, MA, has filed an appeal in his lawsuit against Turner Broadcasting, Major League Baseball, The Boston Red Sox, the rock band Bon Jovi, and other defendants. The case is Steele v. Turner Broadcasting et al, case #08-11727, and is pending in federal court in Boston. Steele argues that his song and an MLB/TBS commercial, which he believes was created using his work as a "temp track," are similar enough to support his claim that the commercial infringes upon his copyright.
"Basically, the District Court believed the defendants' argument that this was all a bunch of coincidences," Steele says. "But it wasn't. It was copyright infringement, pure and simple. In 2004, I wrote my Boston Red Sox-based country baseball anthem entitled 'Man I Really Love This Team.'
"I emailed my song and also mailed the song with lyric sheets to the Red Sox and Major League Baseball several times, including in October 2004, June 2005, and June 2006. I also told them I had another version called 'Man I Really Love This Town' that could be used for any team in any town. To this day, neither the Red Sox nor Major League Baseball has denied receiving my letters, song, and lyric sheets. I never heard back from them.
"Three years later, MLB's "I Love This Town" commercial aired on TBS, with Bon Jovi providing the audio. And I started getting phone calls asking me when I had sold my song. The answer was - and is - never.
"I was never asked for permission to use my work, much less paid or even given credit for it. Defendants admit, in Court documents, receiving my song in October 2004. Defendants have not denied receiving my letters informing them I had created a derivative work, which replaced "team" with "town."
"Defendants admit "access," which is a big part of any copyright claim. It is hard to believe TBS and MLB when they say their commercial's similarities to my song were all a series of unbelievable 'coincidences.'
Steele elaborates, "A close analysis of the MLB/TBS commercial proves that it, and the Bon Jovi audio, was derived from my work," says Steele. "They left a pretty blatant trail of evidence behind,"
"There are just too many places where the visuals match up exactly with my lyrics to be coincidence. For example, at the exact time I am singing "Yawkey Way," the video shows a Yawkey Way street sign, and Bon Jovi is singing "this street." Another obvious example, at the exact time I sing "Tigers," the video shows a Detroit Tigers player."
"As for the lyrics, at the end of my song's bridge I sing "come on and let 'em know say here we go;" the Bon Jovi audio's bridge ends "come on now here we go again." Compare my song to the MLB commercial and see if you can find all the other 'coincidences.'
"In fact, over 50% of the commercial's lyrics are identical to, or paraphrased from my song, according to a number of professional musicians and video experts.
"96% of the commercial's frame-cut edits (149 of 155 video sequences) are in perfect synchronization with my song's tempo, beat, and measure. And the commercial and my song are exactly the same length, both fading out at 2:38.
Steele says the Court failed to properly consider his experts' statements, and that is a major reason why he is appealing.
"I registered 3 titles as both writer & publisher with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP): 1) 'Man I Really Love This Team' 2) 'Man I Really Love This Town' and 3) 'Man I Love This Team,' and this can easily be confirmed at www.ascap.com by title search.
"Everyone tells me that this kind of thing happens all the time in the music business even though it's illegal. The big corporations think musicians will just give up if they have to face a big law firm hired to wear them out. But I'm not giving up.
"When ASCAP saw my evidence, their exact words to me were: "We find it very hard to believe this was independent creation on their (Bon Jovi's) part with the whole baseball and video thing."
"ASCAP subsequently opened a "Discrepancy" case file and requested statements from me and from Bon Jovi. In fact, an ASCAP title search for "I Love This Town" returns only an ASCAP request to call the "Clearance Line" with respect to the "Discrepancy" on that title code (392590937). I replied immediately to ASCAP's request.
"Bon Jovi never replied to ASCAP's request.
"ASCAP eventually froze all royalties on Bon Jovi's audio, "I Love This Town," from the MLB/TBS commercial.
"Amazingly, Bon Jovi never questioned or challenged ASCAP's royalty freeze. Actually, since MLBAM (MLB's non-baseball media/marketing arm) - and not Bon Jovi - owns the copyright to the TBS/MLB commercial, including the audio, maybe it's not that amazing."
Steele concludes, "Bon Jovi is a major client of MLBAM and has been for years. In fact, Bon Jovi, TBS, and MLB teamed up yet again just this fall to promote baseball on TBS. Please check for yourself, this is all public record."
To view and listen to the MLB commercial with Steele's song, go to www.myspace.com/chelseacitycouncil
To view and listen to the MLB commercial with the Bon Jovi audio, go tohttp://mlb.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20070827&content_id=2173003&vkey=pr_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb