Creative Commons Question

edited September 2008 in Music Industry 2.0
Is it illegal to use one of Jonathan Coulton's songs in a music video or anything like that? I just want to cover all grounds before I do because I would hate to cross any lines. Thanks.


  • edited September 2008
    As long as you make no profit from it, it is your's to use.
  • edited September 2008
    There are a few exceptions: covers, and "Still Alive", which I believe was a work-for-hire.

    ETA: Oh, and there's attribution. You need to give him credit for having written and performed the song.
  • I've noticed that there are nonetheless a lot of parodies and covers of Still Alive out there, some of which were mentioned on JoCo's blog. I have six different non-JoCo Still Alives on my iPod alone, and it's even possible to pay for some of them. Are these technically illegal, or is it okay? I'm actually halfway through writing a Still Alive parody so I'm wondering how shark-infested the waters are.
  • Here's a tidy little analysis of parody and fair use under US copyright law.
  • And here is a comic that explains how to use a CC license, and then use something that has a CC license.
  • edited September 2008
    I think Valve (which I presume owns all rights to "Still Alive") sees fan covers as tributes rather than theft, and to date they haven't really complained, so far as I'm aware. In theory, they could turn obnoxious, but it's not really in their business interest to do so. Even commercial covers (whether public performance or sale of recordings) can generally be arranged, so long as the proper fees are paid, and the industry generally tries to make that as easy as possible so as to maximize revenues. Now, if you tried to base a video game around it, that would be a different story.
  • So, if I were to record a cover of Still Alive, and mention JoCo and Valve and Portal, it seems unlikely that anybody would sue me over it. And if I made a video to go with the cover, so far it doesn't look like YouTube would take it down. But what kind of license can I then release the cover under? Creative Commons, or an 'It’s illegal, and so it’s totally free. Please don’t sue me' license? One reason I ask is that if I made such a cover, I'd probably want to put it on my podcast, which is hosted on via OurMedia (which has this fair use policy), and when you upload to OurMedia there's a menu to choose what kind of free license it's under, without an 'It’s illegal, and so it’s totally free. Please don’t sue me' option.

    Or is it better to actually ask Valve? Would [email protected] be the right contact address, and has anybody asked such a question to that email address and received a response so far?
  • You can't take a copyrighted song and turn it into a video that's then Creative Commons somehow. Technically, it'll violate that fair use policy, so technically, you should ask Valve, although if you ask them, you're likely to get a "no".
  • Okay, that's pretty much what I thought, I was just wondering if it being a mere cover (or, just for the sake of knowing whether the same rules apply, a parody) of the song rather than their recording of it would make a difference. The two parodies I linked to in my Sep 15th 2008 are licensed Creative Commons (or at least, they're on a site where everything else is CC, and there's nothing marking these as exceptions) but then they're also being sold for money, so I presume they struck some kind of deal with Valve.

    In fact, if those two parodies are CC, then technically if I wanted to write a parody (rather than a cover) of Still Alive, I guess I could just say that I was parodying the CC-licensed parodies rather than the non-CC-licensed original song. I might ask the FuMPers what the deal is, and whether those parodies are really CC.
  • edited February 2010
    so I presume they struck some kind of deal with Valve.
    Is it possible that they just didn't ask for permission? If you don't ask, you can't be told no...
  • Well, yeah, that's also possible, although it seems odd that they'd deliberately trample over someone else's license and risk being sued when the point of the site is to make and promote CC-licensed music. It could be that they didn't realise that this song fell under a different license from JoCo's other stuff. Anyway, I guess that would mean you can take a copyrighted song and turn it into something that's then Creative Commons somehow. Just... you probably shouldn't. And what happens if they didn't ask, and later Valve tells them it's not okay, but by that time they've made a million dollars (I'm exaggerating a little) and a dozen other people have made things using that music, thinking it was really CC?
  • Then lawsuitarity ensues.
  • Remember, folks, that the old saying that "it's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission" is profoundly less true when there could be legal ramifications.
  • Wow... I hadn't considered that before, but if people just start slapping a CC license on things for which they don't have the right to do so, it sorta weakens the whole concept. Boooo!

    It is frustrating that Still Alive is technically copyright protected. Though I wonder... has anyone actually ever tried contacting valve to see what their official response would be?
  • That's what I was wondering. But if anyone has, the writers of those two parodies have, since they would have asked JoCo's permission to make money (yes, they would have. He is a FuMP artist and pretty much inspired the site) and he'd have said to ask Valve. So I will ask them about it, I will, when I'm less busy.
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