[News] Wedding Photog Sued Over Music: A Cautionary Tale

When Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo’s wedding video went viral on YouTube, wedding photographer Joe Simon found himself getting sued for having used Coldplay's "Fix You" as the background music. To avoid a costly lawsuit Joe was forced to take down the video and to pay a settlement along with an agreement to not talk about the incident. Just something for you all to consider when using music for your next wedding videos or while entering contests such as our Fstoppers 2011 BTSC. Don't get caught with your pants down. As wedding videos increase in style, quality and attention, more and more music producers, artists and composers are taking a more serious stance on their copyrights.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and his then-fiancee, Candice Crawford, at a White House Correspondents' dinner cocktail party, April 30, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Michael Loccisano/Time Warner/Getty Images)
via [PetaPixel]
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Seshan's picture

Yeah, what do people expect? You can't use copy righted material with out getting permission or you risk something like this happening. You might not get sued, but there is a great chance that you video will get taken down. When ever I use music for a video I put on youtube I always make sure it's under the creative commons licence.

Garrett Graham's picture

All these artists are going to accomplish is not getting free advertising. I recently put together a product video for a machine shop for Kickstarter and rather than bother with industry music I just mixed something up with Sony Acid. No it is not great, but it is a no hassle way to be sure you don't provide any free advertising to picky artists ;-) 

Ken Kotch's picture

Garrett, do you work for free? If not why should musicians? 

dude-- i agree with you.. people shouldn't be so up tight about people using their music for something like a wedding video.  i'm a musician, and i'd be honored.  hopefully it would get me more exposure.  also- if anyone wants to use some shots of anything i post on vimeo, and credit me, they're welcome to.

Seshan's picture

Would you be honored if everyone that used your music didn't pay you?

But then you point on something else, it's relatively easy to get music to use for videos, but people are lazy so they go with the pop music because that's all they know and listen to. They don't get permission and then they wonder why stuff like this happens.

Laurian Ene's picture

As a photographer, if a musician wants to use a photo of mine in a slideshow or something non-commercial, i'd appreciate the heads up (As i am much easier to reach then SONY) but ultimately unless you're actively selling something, i would not mind it and have shared my photos with musicians to post on their FB,etc. It would be free exposure for me, most of the musicians who complain about this, i found to be high-end artists who have lawyers on retainers and need to make them work. I work with alot of musicians who would just LOVE the exposure of any youtube videos.

This is the internet, we share things, its what makes it great. There is a time & moment for commercial exchanges, a wedding video starts to really work in the gray area as it is a commercial endeavor, but theres been lots of good reasons as to why music can be so important and so impossibly hard to license. 

While i'm at it... Did the DJ License all the songs hes played ? Isn't it almost identical ? Public showcasing of a song in both cases.

hmm.. you do have a good point, but if i did music as my full-time job (in a touring band), i would give up on the idea of trying to make money through album sales or just about any way other than playing live.  i would devote all my efforts to trying to get as much exposure for my band as possible, so people would come pay to see us live.  any independent or small company would be welcome to use my music if they credit me, as it might introduce some people to it, who would then come and pay to see me play live next time i come around their town.  plus, i would get satisfaction from seeing my music used in more art forms.  not wanting exposure like this is cutting off your nose to spite your face.  i guess everyone feels differently about this, and there are some valid opinions here, but to me this would be free advertising and i would welcome it.

@David - that sounds like the Grateful Dead's business formula. Seems to have worked for them.

Kenn Tam's picture

 If someone was to use one of my shots without my permission, I certainly wouldn't consider it "free advertising" so I don't expect music artist to either.  Luckily I know a lot of great composers and musician I can always barter with.  :)

yeah, I used to be a musician, I have lot of friends that can compose sample-free music... might have to hit them up for my next BTS vid.. or i can compose my own

Patrick Hall's picture

The thing is the music industry provides no way for anyone to even begin to license music in the first place.  If you've ever tried to contact BMI or Sony you will know that unless your budget is $250,000 or more then you have no chance of even starting the legal compensation talks.  

I'm not saying it's right to use unlicensed music (we've did it back in the day) but I think the music industry needs to get a system in place for everyone who has a much smaller budget than a major commercial or movie.  If I could pay $100-$500 a year to legally use a famous song that would be seen by my clients then I would be happy to give back but the fact that they won't even entertain my business/productions just makes me think they are making a poor business decision by leaving a lot of money on the table.  

As for the "Stolen Scream" argument, I think at this point in my career I might still desire an image so widely known that even if I was ripped off for it I could view it as an asset to my career.  All I mean by that is, very few even well known photographers have that one single image that the layman knows and recognizes you by.  Maybe I'm a little strange in saying that but I've yet to have that experience like Noam (licensed or not) and life is short, you are only as good as your last photograph.  I'm sure many people disagree with me though :)

John Godwin's picture

My partner is sitting here with me, she's an IP lawyer for Warner music. She says you're completely wrong and that it's easy to get a license, and for something like Coldplay, it's pennies. 

shoulda used animoto lol

If we break it down to the bare parts of the argument, it is about what mediums you have the right to air/display/ or listen to media. If you buy a coldplay cd, asides from having sub-par music taste, you actually only buy the licence to play that particular CD typically within a residential property. If you wish to play it commercially, you have to seek another license, if you wish to broadcast it... yeah you guessed it. One of the main things I see (in particular with the SOPA being discussed about in the US) technically youtube will be required to pull down all offending content that breeches copyright. As far as I remember that is 90% (a rough guess) of all content. Because it's not just about music, photography does fall under the same bracket, as does fine art and even pencil doodles, if it is used without the permission of the author it is in breech. 

The difference between the music industry & any person of sane mind and judgment is that, we, understand how to work with the internet to turn it into a promotional tool and work with it to our advantage. The music industry never caught on because they were too busy having a pissy-fit at napster back in the day. Technically I, as do all of you, have the right to claim for royalties if our photos are used outside of the original agreement. For example, if that wedding video had a photo that I had taken and was used as a poster/etc... then it is perfectly acceptable for me to send the exact same cease notice.... the reason I wouldn't is because I'm not an asshat wishing to monetize and cripple anyone else's chances for getting their work out there. 

James's picture

Too bad the video's been erased from the face of the earth !

Laurian Ene's picture

Likely not, once its on the internet, there are high chances it'll remain so in a form or another. Enough googling can find you almost anything, that video included i'm sure.

O well, in fact it is the other way around, Cold Play gets free publicity, so they should pay for the wedding. 

Anyway, Cold Play isn't that good. I have stopped listening to their products, and while there is no publicity e.g. on weddings, around them, I will probably not hear any new songs of them....

I recently wanted to go through the "proper channels" to try and license a song (Intro by the XX), for a self promotional piece I was working on.  I've never done this before and have always been curious about what it took to "be legit".  I contacted their licensing group and began an email chain with them basically asking "make us an offer" and my response was "I have no idea, I've never done this before please let me know what you expect for this kind of video"..... 20k a year!  Say whaaaaa??? yep, 20k a year!!!!  This was after me proposing about 300 bucks cold hard cash in which they said "DENIED!"  When they sent me their response I responded with "No wonder people use music without asking".  They didn't like that one bit.  =)

you've spelled incident wrong

Kenn Tam's picture

Thanks man.  ;)

Remy Musser's picture

There are many ways of getting music for free, so why stealing it?
I requested awhile ago using a song from def Leppard for one behind the scene video I am currently working on... Price was too high.
I then contacted Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard guitarist) and he gave me one of his song from a side project.

There's tons of great artist out there willing to give their work free of charge...

Momotooz Tan's picture

Using without asking is as good as stealing...
its like screwing someone from behind and say hey i bet you feeling good and i'm doing you a favor.

j.j.'s picture

You make a song and sign up and pay a fee on ascap as well as setup your royalties for song usage, then send it with your application and pay a fee for copyright to the copyright office. Then you could sell it on digital distribution sites like cdbaby or tunecore, with a fee (or them getting a percentage of sales). Now you can sell it to new listeners or your friends or even yourself. 

I want to say that when it involves someone famous, there will be exposure. And since, Coldplay wasn't contacted for permission, and seeing that they are not getting any money from the video due to how many views or clicks it's received (or if it's monetized), they sue. I also want to say that the photographer probably did not mention in his contract about songs that are acceptable for usage, otherwise he should've stated that if this is the song they want to use, that they are responsible for any infringement or other issues that result from its usage. And they probably should mention that if they do plan on having this song, that it not be posted online. Then there's also the option of having a "personal" version with the song, and a "public" version of the video with a "paid for usage" song.

Now if the video was a private one that wasn't meant to get out, then somebody hacked and leaked the video, and got exposure on it and money as well. And the photog gets the heat for using the song. 

Also, is the photog protected from the NFL or the Dallas Cowboys (ruling organization - don't laugh, i don't know what it's called) for the public image usage of Tony Romo or having video of Mr. Romo's wedding video online? 

coldplay is shit full of plugiarisms

i am signed music and sound producer so i can use my own music =)

so if me or anyone in my videos are wearing vans shoes or any name brand clothes do i have to get permission from them 

With so much CC music available, I wonder why someone would resort to sticking their hand in the blender by using (c) material. I mean, these commercial 'musicians' are in a different world - most of them wouldn't understand the benefits of creating (some?) CC/copyleft music, and they would be dropped by the 'old school establishment' of the RIAA and their cronies if the did.

Having said that, long live the likes of Jonathan Coulton and Kevin MacLeod.

Romo should be sued for posing as an NFL quarterback

just curious, if it was just a video slideshow it wasn't being "sold" does those copyright laws still apply? I thought it was in the case of the copyright material being used without permission for monetary gains?

You don't have to look far to find stories of auto workshops sued because they had a CD player (or even a radio) on in the garage, and this was considered an unauthorized "public performance" of the music. When it comes to the music industry, there's very little moderation nor common sense - if they can sue you, they will. Gotta love the RIAA ...