WB Says You’ll Pay

Here’s the irony: an academic writes a paper that references and quotes relevant prior work, and is commended for the work. But, a journalist working on a book that quotes elements of pop culture risks a copyright infringement lawsuit if he doesn’t pay for his quotes. The fact is, “fair use” is not protected, and it can only be determined in court. Fact is, the risk of lawsuit is enough to make most authors and other content creators license work for uses that most agree should be covered by fair use.

And that’s what Chris Turner had to do when he tried to quote lyrics from Radiohead for his recent book Planet Simpson.

Chris wanted to quote lines and passages from “The Bends,” “Idioteque,” and “I Might Be Wrong,” and Warner Bros., Radiohead’s publisher, saw dollar signs. Never mind that the quotes totaled just 87 words from the three songs, WB still wanted over $4 per word. For context, Chris pointed out that the price demanded by Warner was “more than double the highest amount I’ve ever been paid per word to write for a magazine or newspaper.”

It might also be useful to point out that the book isn’t about Radiohead. It’s about The Simpsons. Did Fox TV demand payment for quotes from the TV show? Chris says no:

I was not required to fork over a single dime to quote from The Simpsons itself, nor to quote at length from Tony Hendra’s excellent book Going Too Far, nor to quote from Foucault or Mark Twain or David Foster Wallace.

ArsTechnica picked up on the story after it was reported in Copyfight, which found it on Chris’s website. Ceaser, at Ars, had this to say:

The mind blowing aspect of this is, of course, the music industry’s hubris. Why is it that I can quote hundreds and hundreds of words from academic authors who have the same copyright protections as the music industry, and yet I have to pay nothing? Why does a few dozen words of lyrics require payment?

Here’s what I have to say: the US economy depends on “the next big thing.” ™ This should be a clear example of “chilling effects” — how copyright, when wrongly practiced, limits a society’s ability to develop new works, new products, or “the next big thing.” ™

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