This past October, I produced an original Halloween-themed murder mystery play with the non-profit theater company I helped to found. My non-profit theater company is a “page to stage” organization that focuses on 1. giving local writers a platform to showcase their original works, 2. giving local actors, directors, set designers, etc., the opportunity to be creative in a non-judgmental environment. We pride ourselves in letting anyone participate regardless of whether or not they have ANY experience in theater. Because many theater companies want “professionals” to work on their productions, people who want to give theater a try, never have the opportunity. On top of “professionals” looking for “professionals,” theatrical productions are often skewed demographically, featuring only white, able-bodied, attractive individuals. My theater company aims to include everyone regardless of experience, appearance, or (dis)ability. I can attest to this first hand because I have a chronic illness that is considered a “disability,” and though I have spent over a year learning how to manage my symptoms, and I’m finally in a place where I can do that successfully most of the time, there are still times where I am in so much pain that I cannot function for either part or the entire day.
Because my chronic illness sometimes inhibits my ability to function, I find solace in the theater company.
My involvement can be sparse or prominent. I can easily ask for help without judgment. I can tell my co-producers what’s up with me health-wise and not feel embarrassed. And I get to put forth effort and energy into work that I wholeheartedly believe in at the level the I am able to, depending on the day.
In October, my company produced a play I wrote. Over half of the cast never acted before. We were completely grassroots. Our set pieces came from our homes. Our costumes were mostly items that we already had or we sewed ourselves. We didn’t have stage lighting. We didn’t have a soundboard or microphones. Even the audience chairs came from four different local organizations or businesses — and then, of course, from our own kitchens and living rooms.
Two friends and I played music to help give actors time to transition into scenes while giving the audience something to pay attention to rather than watching the actors place props on stage in silence. The song we played was a Halloween-themed children’s song from a prominent children’s music YouTube channel.
I reached out in order to ask how I could credit them for using their music. Because my family lives across the country from me, I wanted to be able to post the video of the production on YouTube so they could watch it (and more importantly, so my parents could see the standing ovation we received.)
The result of contacting the children’s musician was a domineering exchange threatening litigation.
Below are excerpts copied and pasted with identification information X’ed out.
Hi XXXXXX team,
I wrote/produced a halloween-themed murder mystery play this past year, and in between scenes my band and I played “XXXXX” (with some adjustments to the lyrics that are not suitable for children!). Anyway, we want to post the video of the play online, but I want to make sure to give proper credit for the music/song. What would be the appropriate wordage for credit?
If I don’t hear from you, I will put, “‘XXXXXXX’ adjusted from original by XXXXXXX”
Thanks for your help in this regard.
Sorry, but you can’t post any video online with any of our content without first negotiating sync licensing. This is basic copyright law. Please do your research about “sync licensing”.
It would be illegal.
If we see this in any form online we will instruct our legal team to take action against you.
No greeting. No closing. Clear condescension and aggression. Naturally, I was quaking in my boots. I don’t have savings. I don’t even have a real job. This past year much of my savings went to paying medical bills for trial and error treatments to try and manage my pain and inflammation. Why are they being so aggressive to a person who wrote a very polite message?
I didn’t and still don’t understand why they responded the way they did.
I wrote back:
Ok, thank you for the information. There is no need to be aggressive in this case. I’m happy to go through the proper protocols to ensure credits are given to the proper organizations/individuals.
What are the first steps of “negotiating sync licensing?”
You have no information on the youtube channel or on the website about using songs or receiving credit for songs. You also have no contact information other than the email address listed on the website, so if email is not the best way to communicate, I’m open to talking on the phone or having a skype session or whatever. I’d be happy to discuss this issue at length with whomever.
I’m definitely not trying to take advantage of anyone, and we can certainly discuss this in a friendly, non-aggressive manner moving forward.
We are not some corporate entity. Just a group of theater geeks who need a hobby. The point of putting it online is only to allow our friends/family who live far away the chance to be able to see it. It’s really not a big deal, and I have maybe a couple thousand dollars [a generous estimate] to my entire name, so it’s not like I can offer you royalties or something. If that is a dealbreaker and you are going to “take legal action” if we put our shitty play up online with your music in it, then I will gladly mute the transitions between scenes and not mention XXXXX at all.
If I don’t hear from you, I will mute the transitions between scenes and not mention XXXXXX at all.
Again, there’s absolutely no need to be aggressive. I’m a normal person looking to live my life the best I can just like everyone else.
We were not being “aggressive”. We were just informing you in plain English of the legal position. We are simply protecting our brand and also protecting yourself from potential legal issues. We are a children’s education company. So I’m sure you would understand that we would not want any of our content to be associated in any way with any other content which is not suitable for children.
No one has any automatic right to use copyrighted content.
In the future you can make sure that there are no copyright problems by creating 100% original content and then you will be free to distribute your original content however you may wish.
We’re sure that you will be just as protective of your content as we are.
We, ourselves, have been denied the use of copyrighted content many many times. It’s disappointing. But sometimes the answer is NO, and we have to respect that and move on. And when someone says NO, we do not accuse them of being aggressive. After politely accepting that people are rightly protective of their original ideas, we have often ended up working on other projects together.
Sorry, we are not licensing any of our content for third party use at this time.
Fair. I totally get it. But all of that information could be given without being an asshole about it right? And if they are (a) children’s musician(s) concerned about their image, wouldn’t they want to correspond more civilly?
Thank you for your response. The message is received loud and clear. If you are very concerned about your image or “brand” then you should reconsider the way in which you correspond professionally. Lastly, I will strongly suggest you put this information on your website so that average individuals, like myself, who do zero recording, who play music only for fun and not profit, and who know nothing about “basic copyright law” and have never heard of “synch licensing” before, can know ahead of time your protocols for using your music, and they can avoid the very unpleasant experience of corresponding with you. In the very least, I hope you reconsider how you correspond with human beings in the future.
Best of luck in your future creative endeavors.
A few minutes later, I received a new email, subject: Failure to secure Grand Rights
Having looked into your performance, it would seem that you performed our copyrighted content in front of a paying audience of 120.
Unfortunately, as you failed to secure Grand Rights for the use of our copyrighted content, you have already broken the law.
We have instructed our legal team to take the appropriate action against the writers, the organisers of the event and the venue, XXXXXXX, which may also be liable.
The damages shouldn’t be too large. Probably no more than $10,000.
Probably best to settle out of court.
We are prepared to let the whole thing slide for a donation of $10 to the XXXXX Foundation.
If you have found this communication aggressive in any way, we apologise sincerely.
It wasn’t our intention.
Why? Why this? What is the point of being such domineering assholes?
I don’t know. I don’t understand.
Along with an attached receipt of my donation, I wrote:
I really don’t understand why you’re being like this. We are just normal people, who were trying to do the right thing, and didn’t know we did the wrong thing. It won’t happen again. We weren’t trying to get the best of you. We weren’t trying to cheat you. But it doesn’t matter: You win. Please stop contacting me.
I didn’t hear from them again, and I hope I never do, but still… I’m SO flabbergasted this happened at all. If you are a prominent children’s musician, I would think that you would go out of your way to NOT be an asshole to small-town, nobody, non-profit, theater geeks.
What I Learned From This Asshole
Listening to the actors say the words that I wrote, watching the actors act out the stage directions I strategized, and being able to be a part of it all by being on stage playing this children’s musician’s song in between the scenes, was probably the best moment of my whole life. I’ve never felt so proud of something I’ve created, so elated that people came to see my play and were actually enjoying it. And then the totally unnecessary show of dominance from this children’s musician totally ruined that experience for me.
So, I’m writing this post, 1. to vent because I am so upset by this entire incident, and 2. to encourage anyone who reads this (read: my two friends who follow me on Medium) to search for the humanity in idiots.
Let’s be more mindful so that we respond to idiots with kindness rather than assholery.
Most idiots are good people who make mistakes, like me. Not only am I an idiot, but I’m an idiot who has suffered a lot in the last more-than-a-year, and I was well-intentioned. I didn’t set out to fuck anyone over or to try and cheat anyone or to take advantage of anyone. Why bully me like that? There was absolutely no need.
So, let’s keep that in mind the next time an idiot in our lives fucks up. It is very, very unlikely the idiot fucked up in an attempt to fuck us over. And when we are idiots, let’s hope people respond to us with kindness, or at least CIVILITY, over domineering assholery. We don’t know what kind of pain people are suffering on the other side of the wires and screens.
I know I, at least, learned a lesson in how NOT to treat people. And I hope this prominent children’s musician learns this lesson too someday soon.
Developing a following for my writing is really hard. Can you help me out?
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