Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Music Rights & TV on DVD

Creating a quality film or television series is the same as creating a good work of art. Meticulous, pain-staking care is given to casting, writing, set d├ęcor, wardrobe, hairstyles, lighting and even the music. Some of these may matter more but in the end, the show released to the public is what you expect to see whether the program is on network television or on a DVD release.

Yet when some of these shows come onto DVD, they hit the market without original music and in some cases, the episodes aren't even the original, network presentation. Some of this can be attributed to the shows and contracts being formed at a time before the VHS/DVD market existed or had teeth. WKRP in Cincinnati is a perfect example (http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/shows/WKRP-Cincinnati/4708#News).

However, music has been cut out of recent shows as well. One case in point: My Name is Earl.

This is hardly an old debate. The website “TV Shows on DVD” (www.tvshowsondvd.com) and posters on “Home Theater Forum” (http://www.hometheaterforum.com/forum/list/51) have been discussing this almost since television shows were first released on DVD. Angry consumers have taken studios to task for music replacement issues, particularly when they had to learn about them after buying a DVD set and/or the studio labeled the release as “The Complete _____ Season”. This recent post on “The Wonder Years” features a good sum up of the issue (http://www.hometheaterforum.com/forum/thread/291386/is-the-wonder-years-that-much-of-a-risk).

Now I have a pony in this race for a few reasons: 1. My husband & I have a DVD collection that rivals many indie video stores, complete with many TV shows, 2. We've passed on quite a few shows we'd have gotten on DVD but for the butchering of music that affects the quality of the story or harms the plot and 3. My film company is working on a television show pilot so now I'm in a position to get our team to demand that their art is not butchered due to music licensing costs and the fact that new shows, especially hits, almost ALWAYS get a DVD release.

Despite all this discussion on the issue, I've not seen any lawyers jumping in. The only legal action I've seen is a general disclaimer that the consumer should expect cuts to a show; in many instances, there are none. However, as a consumer I personally feel that cutting theme songs, music integral to the plot and especially using a syndicated print is like seeing a painting of “Starry Night” with a big, blank cut out in the middle. Plenty of consumers agree, considering Variety even lashed out against CBS/Paramount for the treatment of The Fugitive Season 2 release (http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117987978.html?categoryid=16&cs=1).

Some questions to consider: Why are recent shows being subject to changes in music when they get a DVD release? Shoddy lawyering? Bad negotiators for the networks and artists?

How can the creators of shows fix these things to prevent the consumer backlash of WKRP or The Fugitive (http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Site-News-Lawyers-Disclaimers-Fugitive/9860)? Some of the Home Theater Forum users practically called for Mark Heyes' head on a silver platter.

Finally, is there a viable case to be made against studios for false advertising when a show is labeled “The Complete ___ Season”, the consumer opens it, finds music edits & can't return it to the store b/c of customary store policies banning returns on opened DVDs? What about in the case of The Fugitive when consumers were suddenly treated to music edits after an earlier season had a trivial amount?

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