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Is it legal to easter-egg a copyright tune into a film?

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  • Is it legal to easter-egg a copyright tune into a film?

    I had a cool idea for my film: we would have the tune (not the actual song, just its tune) of the "Firefly" intro music performed on a harmonica or something in the background of a scene of the movie. I wouldn't be the score, but rather just a song playing from a stereo or something.

    The idea is that it would be an easter egg/reference to pay homage to Firefly. Would this be legal?

  • #2
    If it was similar enough to put you in mind of the tune but not the identical notes (a variation on a musical theme) there probably wouldn't be a problem. Keeping it very short so that no complete musical phrase is played might also work. I've seen both done to great comedic effect in film. The thing is you don't want it to be positively identifiable as their copyrighted music in a court of law.
    Matt Crunk
    Writer/Producer/Director/Actor
    Fiveacre Films Productions

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Fiveacre Films View Post
      If it was similar enough to put you in mind of the tune but not the identical notes (a variation on a musical theme) there probably wouldn't be a problem. Keeping it very short so that no complete musical phrase is played might also work. I've seen both done to great comedic effect in film. The thing is you don't want it to be positively identifiable as their copyrighted music in a court of law.
      Thanks. I think I know what you mean by changing certain notes, I've seen it done before in parodies. But if that's the case then how did Train get away with using the Phantom of the Opera tune in 50 Ways to Say Goodbye?

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      • #4
        Who's to say they didn't get permission to use it? I'm not familiar with either of those particular pieces of work, but just using a piece of someone else's music in your own recording is not that difficult nor, in most cases, all that expensive to do legally. The statutory fee for recording a work published by someone else is something like nine-cents per copy that you make or sell. That applies to audio recordings only. If you want to use someone elses piece in your video or film, that would have to be worked out directly with the writer/copyright holder in most cases, and could cost considerably more.

        Now I don't know if you are referring to music from the modern Phantom of the Opera play, or a piece from the score to the original silent film. If the later is the case, I'd think that work is now fully in public domain (as is the film itself) and may be used freely by anyone for any purpose.
        Matt Crunk
        Writer/Producer/Director/Actor
        Fiveacre Films Productions

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Fiveacre Films View Post
          Who's to say they didn't get permission to use it? I'm not familiar with either of those particular pieces of work, but just using a piece of someone else's music in your own recording is not that difficult nor, in most cases, all that expensive to do legally. The statutory fee for recording a work published by someone else is something like nine-cents per copy that you make or sell. That applies to audio recordings only. If you want to use someone elses piece in your video or film, that would have to be worked out directly with the writer/copyright holder in most cases, and could cost considerably more.

          Now I don't know if you are referring to music from the modern Phantom of the Opera play, or a piece from the score to the original silent film. If the later is the case, I'd think that work is now fully in public domain (as is the film itself) and may be used freely by anyone for any purpose.
          The music I was hoping to use wasn't from Phantom of the Opera, I was just bringing it up because I was curious as to a copyright thing about it. The music I wanted to feature was the main theme from the Joss Whedon series "Firefly".

          Are you saying that it is only a 9-cents fee per copy to feature the tune of this in my film?

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          • #6
            NO. The 9 cents applies to sound recordings only. Not film or video. What I was saying was if you wanted to record your own performance of the theme from Firefly (or any other published copyrighted work) and put it out on your own CD, you would only have to pay the copyright holder 9 cents (I believe that's the current rate. It used to be 5 cents but they upped it in recent years) for every copy you sell.

            Including it in a motion picture deals with a whole different type of royalty for which there are no set fees. You'd have to negotiate a deal directly with the copyright holder for that.
            Matt Crunk
            Writer/Producer/Director/Actor
            Fiveacre Films Productions

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Bryce Welsh View Post
              how did Train get away with using the Phantom of the Opera tune in 50 Ways to Say Goodbye?
              Your question got my curiosity up so I checked out the Train song to see what you were talking about. While the two tunes might share a few vague similarities (both are in minor keys for one), "50 Ways" is in no way a direct copy of the Phantom theme. In fact it has much more in common with many traditional Spanish folk songs, than with Phantom. Not nearly close enough to worry about copyright infringement. at least not in my opinion.
              Matt Crunk
              Writer/Producer/Director/Actor
              Fiveacre Films Productions

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Fiveacre Films View Post
                Your question got my curiosity up so I checked out the Train song to see what you were talking about. While the two tunes might share a few vague similarities (both are in minor keys for one), "50 Ways" is in no way a direct copy of the Phantom theme. In fact it has much more in common with many traditional Spanish folk songs, than with Phantom. Not nearly close enough to worry about copyright infringement. at least not in my opinion.
                ► 2:07► 2:07
                m.youtube.com/watc...
                Jul 6, 2012

                The verse of 50 is nearly identical to the chorus of phantom. (The tunes themselves, not the feels or instruments used)

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bryce Welsh View Post
                  The verse of 50 is nearly identical to the chorus of phantom. (The tunes themselves, not the feels or instruments used)
                  Yes, but therein lies the crux. "Nearly identical" is only a matter of opinion. Being a musician myself, I hear quite a few different notes being played between the two pieces. Enough, in my opinion, to make Train's song their own composition. Now I have no doubt that "50" was inspired by the Phantom tune, either consciously or subconsciously, but it's not identical. That's all that matters.

                  As to your original question, "how did Train get away with it". No idea. Probably because the Phantom owners either don't know about it or don't care, or maybe their lawyers told them it's not a strong enough case to win.
                  Matt Crunk
                  Writer/Producer/Director/Actor
                  Fiveacre Films Productions

                  Comment

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