It all began one day when I decided to do a Mouth Organ Karaoke video that would feature a humorous parody of a particular iconic singing group of the 1970s. (No Matt—NOT ABBA. There were other groups during that time, you know.) Anyway, I had done several of these videos before, using popular tunes that were basically hummed by me, and visually illustrated with animated rubber ducks. Not what you’d call superior production values, but I’d always been able to create this sound in my mouth that sounded like a rhythm section; which is a completely separate sound from the tune being hummed. (In other words, two different sounds/rhythms, for the price of one). And since people had always found this to be a clever sort of “trick, I decided to create a video series using that kind of “music” as the soundtrack. And make no mistake, none of my renditions even came close to infringing on anyone’s artistic sensibilities, though I’m sure some people find them terribly annoying.
And since I’ve always been interested in animation, it was a fun way to use that particular talent to experiment with different types of music and themes. Plus, this way I wasn’t using the actual music in my video—only a badly hummed version of it–– so I really didn’t think my one-minute video parody was a potential threat to anyone. And certainly not enough for anyone to come after me with the strong-arm of the law. Or at least the strong-arm of YouTube.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The important thing to know is that I made this little video featuring six iconic figures from the disco era (see photo above, Exhibit A), thinking that it might be greeted by a few people with a chuckle, or perhaps a tear for a bygone day. But after the video was posted and up for only a few days, something completely unexpected happened. Instead of getting a few pro or con comments, I got a very serious e-mail from YouTube, telling me that I was in violation of copyright infringement, and that the owners of the song (a company apparently famous for scowering the Internet for possible violations) had contacted them to pull the video off the site.
MY LITTLE VIDEO, featuring rubber ducks dressed up to look like a particular group of “People,” parading around a cardboard set, vaguely resembling a famous Men’s organization, was apparently posing some kind of threat to the artistic integrity of the song. (A song, by the way, that is sung or played at nearly every wedding reception or social function where people are having a good time on the dance floor.) In fact, the song is so ingrained into the fabric of American pop culture that it will probably outlive us all. (And it’s not even that good a song, which gives this slap in the face even more of a sting.)
You may have noticed that I hesitate to even mention the name of the group or the song in this posting, for fear I might be singled out again for further admonishment. I mean, honestly. The video was seen by maybe 630 people in the three days it was up, and I’d consider myself lucky if that number eventually made it to two or three thousand. What’s more, I’m not even getting paid for doing it. I don’t make any money off my videos or my blog or my websites. I do everything purely to be creative and to entertain. (If any of this eventually leads to money, I wouldn’t turn it down of course. But it’s not my modus operandi.) Therefore, the banishment of my simple little video seemed a bit extreme.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect people’s copyrights and their right to enforce them, but the use of a familiar musical tune as the basis for song parody is an age-old practice. “Weird Al” Yankovic has made a career out of his song parodies, and one of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows is “Forbidden Broadway,” which blatantly lampoons past and present Broadway shows, using music from those actual shows. And you know why people don’t sue? Because it’s publicity—good or bad, it will get people to remember the show.
But apparently my Mouth Karaoke version of this famous song was just the kind of bad publicity they didn’t want to be associated with. (After all, nobody wants to be parodied by a rubber duck. How degrading.) There is definitely some leeway in the law governing the use of copyrighted material for parodies, but I’m in no position to fight this. Nor do I really care to. I only make my videos to amuse myself, and hopefully a few others. (Never thinking, of course, that any of my videos would ever be worthy of any kind of recognition, let alone legal action.) So now I have this cute little video, which took me countless hours of tedious frame-by-frame stop motion work to create, and no one will ever see it. Unless they come to my house, I guess. But even then, there may be spies lurking outside the window to see if I’ll ever play it again.
So for now, the lights have been turned off on this particular disco ball. WHY? UM, SEE A.