Did Pharrell Williams Plagiarize Happy Video?

Did Pharrell Williams Happy music video plagiarize Anne Marsen‘s dancing video as seen on Vimeo in 2011?

Happy is almost a shot-for-shot reproduction of this dancer's 2011 video "Girl Walk All Day"
Happy is almost a shot-for-shot reproduction of this dancer’s 2011 video “Girl Walk All Day”


In this video, the dancer shows how Happy was almost a shot-by-shot reproduction of Marsen’s 2011 video titled “Girl Walk // All Day.” Her video showing the theft is titled “Pharrell Likes My Work.” But it’s so close, it seems like she has a decent case for copyright infringement. Or at least warrants a public apology or acknowledgement by Pharrell and Yoann Lemoine, the creative director of Happy’s music video.

Pharrell Loves My Work from Anne Marsen on Vimeo.



YouTube Tips From Lawyers

Prompted by Google’s statement that YouTube vows “quicker, tougher copyright enforcement,” ReelSEO’s Grant Crowell tackled this issue on a listenable podcast titled “YouTube Copyright Tips,” with the help of David Michail and Daliah Saper (check 5-minute mark of this video to hear Saper’s illuminating story about what I’ll call a “social-media impaired judge”).

Crowell’s got a voice for radio and a light, funny style.. and he’s passionate about the cross-section of legal issues and the online-video medium. In keeping with the 12 days of Christmas, Grant provides 15 tips that are valuable even if obvious and painful to read/hear.

Increasingly even song parodies are coming under fire, and some companies are looking to make examples of people doing even innocuous things like putting together a “Google Images” collage. Even the Hitler parodies are under fire.

Here’s a link to Google’s Public Policy Blog on the subject, where YouTube is making 4 specific steps:

  1. New and improved 24-hour action on “reliable” takedown requests- per DCMA. I’ve noticed when my kids post their claymation videos using pop songs they’ve purchased on iTunes, their videos vanish quickly in what appears to be an automatic (thumbprint technology) bust.
  2. Preventing terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in autocomplete (SNL clips, justin bieber).
  3. Improve AdSense anti-piracy review: expelling violators (which would include YouTube Partners).
  4. They will give authorized content better accessibility in search results. That’s a big deal, and will negatively impact those video creators who have benefited from search mistakes. For instance, someone searching Keisha is probably looking for a Keisha video not a parody video.

So let’s use an example… Here’s what I got searching “keisha” on Google –an intentional misspelling of Kei$ha). Neither appears legit. One’s a rip, and the other’s a website that’s embedding a video. Will these sustain, or will Google direct people to the “singer’s” videos?

Keisha search result on google
What I found searching “Keisha” on Google.

Some key points from Grant and his lawyers:

  • To protect your own work, you should register/trademark your content (sorry, we’re a bit lazy here but thanks)
  • Even small stuff (using an image or brief clip of song) is a copyright infringement and can be penalized by death.
  • Check out legalvideoguides (Grant’s channel) or get a lawyer friend (most attorneys are eager and willing to be friends since they don’t tend to have any).
  • While you may be protected under “fair use,” you’re risking hundreds of dollars… to hundreds of thousands of dollars in and infringement suit. It can be expensive to defend.
  • Under DCMA, most creators can issue their own “take down” notice to YouTube to get them removed. So while that often means getting attacked by Viacom, it’s also a resource that YouTubers can use if their own stuff gets ripped by trolls… happens to me quite often. A ripped version of my stupid “head board” parody got more views than my own video, and I believe YouTube yanked it by my request. Usually I don’t bother.
  • Read the “terms of use” and understand the process (yawn).

I’ll leave you with what may be an example of Google/YouTube’s policy #4…. Note that a search for SNL results provides #1 ranking to NBC, with a lower ranking (but thumbnailed) video from Buckley… Of course it’s also possible that we humans have taught Google to rank NBC because the slow-load & intensive advertising experience is so much superior to the ripped SNL clips that “made YouTube” (he says sarcastically).

Let’s Create a Source for Free Royalty-Free Music

Let’s help build a killer index for FREE royalty-free music. Ever search for free music online? How about royalty-free music? It’s hard to find good stuff. Now let’s complicate it further. Free, royalty-free music? Nearly impossible.

But the need is there, and the benefit is high for:

  1. Viewers/listeners: Who can discover new talent, and enjoy videos without hearing the same ridiculous loops from every editing software package.
  2. Video creators: Who can stick to what they do best, but create better videos with the help of talented usicians.
  3. Musicians: Who can gain exposure from the large audiences of video creators. What a great way to market your work. If I was a musician, I’d certainly offer a few songs for free (in exchange for credit), and I’d market myself to popular video creators in hope that they’d use my tunes and credit me. I do this often, but it helps when musicians are aggressive (and talented).

Kevin MacLeod, the infamous talent behind Incompetech.com, has changed YouTube forever by offering his music for free AND royalty-free use. That means we “partners” can use it without fear of the copyright police. We want to use good music (not just our own attempts to score via Garageband or other layman tools.

Offering free music, of course, is a generous gesture by MacLeod and others, but also a brilliant marketing strategy. As I’ve written before, I’ve commissioned custom music from MacLeod to thank him… and he was fair on price, excellent in quality, and extremely fast in turnaround. It put MacLeod on the map, and is a smart strategy for any talented musician looking for fast and free exposure.

Kevin’s friend Frank Nora is offering HOURS of his music without any cost and for royalty free use. He doesn’t ask for credit, which makes me want to credit him even more! Kevin has a few other friends who have taken his approach to marketing their talent. I hope to include their websites to this post.

Are you aware of other musicians who offer their music for free? Let’s create a one-stop showcase for them, and see if we can push it up on Google for searches for “royalty-free free music” or “free royalty-free music.” If it already exists, please let me know!

Currently Google searches like those yield a lot of websites that promise it, but are actually selling really cheesy, outdated collections of canned gunk. The kind of thing that is almost bad enough for a parody of a corporate video, but not quite bad enough.

Thanks musicians! Thanks video creators that help publicize these talented musicians and make videos that are more fun to watch. And thanks to you WillVideoForFood peeps that can help make it easier to find ’em.

Copacabana Silicon Valley Parody

From the folks that brought you “Here Comes Another Bubble,” enjoy The Richter Scales‘ Silicon Valley Copacabana parody, “In the Valley.” The camera work was apparently done by my deceased grandmother, but you’ll enjoy the live performance at the Crunchies (source: Mark Casey sending me SFWeekly article).

These guys aren’t lounge singers. They’re accomplished attorneys, engineers and technology executives from little schools like Princeton, Stanford and Yale (meet them). Their a cappella voices just happen to be the cherry on their intellectual banana split.

Parenthetically, my old boss knows these guys, and first brought them to my attention the bubble parody in December 2007 (I called it a seminal viral moment). The “Here Comes Another Bubble” spoof viralinated, but lost much of its traction when the creators had to pull the original video. Seems photographer Lane Hartwell bitched about her photo showing up in the bubble song for about .04 seconds. That sent me on a wild mission… challenging fellow video creators to exploit her work in video (see my Dec. 2007 video rant). There are nine videos pooping on Hartwell that still exist.

Some favorite lyrics of this new doozy:

  • “His name was Michael (Arington). He was the blog king. But deep inside he really felt he should be hardware king as well. He took a napkin, and drew a tablet. He called a group in Singapore to ship his Crunchpad out the door. But Singapore said “psyche.” They tore the napkin, Mike. Your old Crunchpad is now our JooJoo, so go take a hike.”
  • “His name was Eric (Schmidt). He wanted downloads. But Apple’s ruthless App Store Cops wouldn’t give his products props. They blocked his map app. And Google Voice too. At first we blamed AT&T but even fanboys came to see that their beloved Steve had something up his sleeve. They were locked in an iPhone prison and they could not leave…. open or closed either way you are hosed at the Valley.”
  • “His name was Rupert (Murdock). He was a mogul. But then the Internet arrived and Rupert saw/watched his profits dive. He claimed that Google was stealing content. The Googlers said that you’re so dexted just go and change your robot.txt… No we will never pay to search the WSJ. Cause the journal gets all its news from bloggers anyway (roar from crowd).

These are all clever spoofs of important moments in the technology evolution/war… little moments that point to major issues about the implications of open/closed technology, intellectual property theft, rights protection. Set to the tune of Copacabana by Barry Manilow, the parody takes on a number of super-geeky technology themes, including (1) Mike Arrington’s CrunchPad debacle, (2) the Apple vs. Google Voice conflict, and (3) the threat by News Corp to de-index itself from Google.

Sometimes I feel dangerously detached from the latest technology news, but I found myself getting most of these references, and watching my laptop dance on my chuckling-induced bouncing belly.

What’s “Fair Use” in Online Video?

Copyright Law is probably the most misunderstood of all law pertaining to copyrights. I wrote that myself.

So it helps to get some guidance from Mark Levy, who specializes in intellectual property law, and wrote a piece on “What’s Legal: Producer’s Rights” in a recent issue of VideoMaker.

The least you need to know:

  • Copyright law protects you as a video creator, and gives you the right to authorize (or not) your stuff for reproduction, derivative works and distribution for sale or rental.
  • Fair use allows users to copy portions off a work for purposes of illustration or commentary. Journalist can quote speeches, but courts consider four factors to determine the fine line between fair use and copyright infringement:
  1. The nature of the work: If it’s factural not creative, it’s more likely to pass.
  2. Purpose: commercial or non-profit has obvious implications.
  3. Amount and substantiality of excerpted work. The more you use, the greater the risk. TheStranger can probably use my image in this “Undies” award promotion. But the jackass that keeps ripping popular YouTube videos, posting it on their own channel, and linking to their stupid website? YouTube seems to be policing that well.
  4. Potential effect on the value or potential market of the original work.

Be careful out there, kiddo.

Here Comes Another DMCA Whiner

Lane Wants Her MoneyI try to be fairly objective on this blog, but I really have no sympathy for whining photographers that hire attorneys because their photos appear for a second in a popular YouTube video. The photographers, like the writers striking, are under the delusion that they’re being deprived of their rightful income. The reality is that there is no damned income.

It’s like a feuding family competing for the box of molded National Geographic magazines their dead father left behind.

Background: “Here Comes Another Bubble,” by “The Richter Scales,” is a case study in copyright lunacy. The penniless a Capella singers stitched their song to random photos they found on the web… because a YouTube music video with a black screen (or worse yet, facially-challenged a Capella singers) just wouldn’t have been as viral. They received no advertising revenue because they weren’t yet in YouTube’s partner’s program (if they were, they would have known the risk, because YouTube puts us through a daunting meeting with an attorney before we get into the program).

Along comes photographer Lane Hartwell (whose image above is used without her permission) and sends YouTube a DMCA notice because she finds one of her photos in the montage.

  • Explains Richter Scales: “when Lane emailed us shortly after the video was released, we immediately gave her a credit, with a link, in the “About This Video” section on YouTube, but weren’t able to assess whether that was sufficient because Lane wouldn’t talk to us via phone and didn’t respond to our emails with any requests or proposals before she issued the DMCA take-down request.”
  • Fartwell’s attorney claims The Richter Scales were cavalier, and Hartwell herself said: “the band opted not to work with me toward a fair resolution of the issue. I have to say that I’m very disappointed with the members of the band I negotiated with in good faith.”
  • This appears to be a divided issue, but isn’t it amazing how radically different these accounts are of what happened before the DMCA notice was filed by Hartwell?

Lane’s attorney friend is sympathetic but acknowledges she has little legal recourse. So what it this about? Standing for principals or fame whoring? I’ve got my theory. (Parenthetically, here’s an article on this subject from Wired, but don’t expect objectivity since Fartwell contributes to the publication).

Now this stupid thing is a debate of magnitude proportions:

How about you photographers save your energy for when someone is actually making money on your images instead of doing it on principle? Or find a way to put your talents to making your own profit, instead of whining when someone else uses your photos to not make money. There’s no mistaking that the a Capella group violated Hartwell’s copyright, but it’s not like they were out selling her framed photos to line their limos with puppy fur… they didn’t make any money directly from the viral video, and to date have sold a few of their legacy music CDs that don’t even contain the “Here Comes Another Bubble” song.

Here’s the essence of the problem. It’s a good motive gone perverse. Photographers, video creators and a Capella singers are all in the same boat. We’re artists who are not generally making significant dollars via our passion, and so we want to preserve our rights. But do we chase each other down for our fair share of dink, or find ways to collaborate and monetize?

My videos are constantly ripped and posted. Sometimes I’ll alert YouTube, but I usually consider it free advertising. The only time I ever took objection is when someone posted my “Bored at the Mall” on Break.com and made profit from it as it hit ~1.5 million views. But I didn’t go on a witch hunt and didn’t expect to get a dime.

If creators instead invest the time they spend whining about copyrights in promoting their work and monetizing it, things will change. And the only ones who will suffer in that scenario are ambulance-chasing copyright attorneys.

Thanks to NewTeeVee for getting me all riled up before my second cup of coffee. By way of disclaimer, I have no relationship with The Richter Scales and I’m a strong believer in artist rights — hence my passion for models like Revver. But I have zero tolerance for unreasonable behavior like this.

Hey, Lane. If you’ll drop this, I will personally send you a check for their entire proceeds of 8 CDs. But if not, please have fun filing DMCA notices against those strangers that participate in my “Lane Hartwell Video Collage contestusing your Flickr photos (See my video rant).