The YouTube video of “That Song that Sounds a Whole Lot Like ‘Toy'” was pulled down, which seems like a tacit admission that proper protocols were not observed when it was made. And one of the Korean fans has managed to get through to Poptime, so it seems like Seven Seasons is definitely going to know about it.
(Original Tweet here. And thank you!)
The thing that could potentially make this really expensive for the guy is that it’s a commercial release–“TStSaWLL’T'” (a.k.a. “Megafon”) is on iTunes and Amazon and Google Play and Spotify and God only knows what other retail outlets. That makes its a very different creature than a mixtape using an unlicensed sample from “Toy,” which would likely not be a big deal.
Notice something interesting? When it comes to classifying as song as a commercial release, it doesn’t matter if it makes any money. The mere presence of “TStSaWLL’T'” on retail sites is enough to make it a commercial release. Has the song sold not a single copy? Did the guy actually lose money on it? It doesn’t matter.
I have seen this concept repeatedly confound newbie writers. You tell them that they are making a commercial release when they self-publish a book, and they tell you:
- “I haven’t made any money from this!”
- “This isn’t a commercial book–it’s literature.”
- “There’s not a publishing house involved. It’s just me.”
- “I’m fine if I don’t make money–this is really a passion project.”
Nobody cares!!! Are you putting your work up for sale? Yes? That’s enough! It’s a commercial release now, and nobody gives a fuck about the rest of it.
The thing is that, at least in the United States, the holder of the copyright on something has certain rights regardless of how the property is used–but they often distinguish between what’s called personal use and what’s called commercial use.
So, let’s say there’s some cool clip art out there, as well as some bitchin’ fonts, and you have used these time and time again to advertise your church’s bake sale or your school club or whatever. You never had to pay for any of this artwork, and that was never a problem–you’ve never even had to think about it.
Because you were engaged in personal use.
Try slapping that shit on the cover of something you’re going to sell, and suddenly there’s a whole bunch of problems. There’s all this small print about “commercial licenses,” and if you don’t pay it any mind, lawyers send you nasty letters and you have to pay a bunch of money.
Do I think that kind of slippery-slope thing is what happened here? I have no idea–maybe the dude thought that Korea is so far away that no one could possibly figure out what he’d done! (It’s not like they have the Internet there, right?) (ETA: We know more now.) But a lot of newer artists do kind of have trouble wrapping their brains around the fact that the arts are commercial–these are businesses and industries, and you can’t get away from that no matter how bohemian or small-time you are.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a commercial artist, if you’re putting it up for sale, the law thinks that you are one–and it’s important to know that.