Music licensing keeping shows from DVD

A few years ago, I started a small petition on this site for the release of the Northern Exposure television series on DVD. I am mocked to this days by my friends and co-workers, and justifiably so, for having undertaken a cause of such massive dorkitude.

Since then, completely unrelated to my embarrassing crusade, Universal has released Season One and Season Two of the show.

Fellow die-hard Northern Exposure fan, Art Pattison, posted an update after the second season DVD release in a reply here Acts of Volition:

“The latest word on commercial releases by Universal is that since they did such a poor job on Season 2, by substituting much of the music which needed (expensive?) copyright approval by the artists with elevator muzak, many fans are complaining to Universal about what they call “fraud” (since the music is such an integral part of the story lines). As a result, Universal may not issue any more releases of our beloved Northern Exposure. Too bad! We would all lose if this happened!”

Another disappointed fan writes:

“Something was vaguely dissapointing about it and then I realised it was the annoying music which quite often simply fails to synch with the scenes in a convincing manner. Now it is hard to enjoy watching it once you realise what has been done.”

Apparently, the issue of licensing music for DVD releases of TV series’ goes far beyond Northern Exposure. Wired News writes about how Copyrights Keep TV Shows off DVD.

It’s sad to see a copyright issue holding back the release of shows that people want to watch and own. I’m not sure if it’s the television studios, the record companies, or both that are most to blame. Regardless, they’ll all lose out when they realize that fans will go underground and get copies of the original shows, soundtrack and all, without paying a cent to the record companies or studios.


19 thoughts on “Music licensing keeping shows from DVD

  1. Copyright should not be treated as the boogie man, even with the popular kick against it. If you sold code that was used for the show’s final credits and your contract said that they would only be used for the original showing and not for other media without further payment, you’d be pissed if they went ahead and put it out on other media without paying you. That is all that is happening.

    There are two responses. Replace the copyrighted music with original music created for the DVD. Another is what the BBC is doing with its back catalog to put the TV archive on line – settle all the outstanding interests. The threat of compromise your interests or we will steal from you does not work in other areas of ownership (your house, your cat) so why does it have any validity in the new economy? It all boils down to just paying the piper.

  2. Good points, Alan. However, the comparison to other areas of ownership of physical assets needs a major qualifitation. If you steal someones house or cat, they don’t have a house or cat anymore. This is not the case with intellectual property. Hence the difference between theft and copyright infringment.

    I’ve never been comfortable with the term “intellectual property theft”. Though, I have to admit, I get pretty pissed when people steal my icons.

  3. All value in property is the right to exclude. If someone steals your house, you are excluded from shelter. If someone steals your intellectual property, you lose the ability to reproduce it for value as you deem fit. Over reproduction by others collapses the value it might have had to the owner applying exclusion. By undertaking the theft, you actually destoy the exchange value just as if you take my cat. I can’t sell you the thing I created if you can get it free elsewhere.

    Conversely, this is why intellectual property protection should be granted limited application – ideas should not be copyrighted just particular expressions, and software should not be patented as it is merely text and instruction. But even then, the people who wrote the music for Northern Exposure should have the right to be paid for what they did or it should be removed. It would actually be interesting if the producers did, for example, put in another harmonica player playing another tune during the opening credits.

  4. I recall web discussion about WKRP in Cincinnati being played in syndication without the original music — generic “rock muzak” was overdubbed. So this isn’t DVD-related only.

    We also encounter this same issue with our publishing clients who are considering selling digital access to archived print publications: the issue of “digital rights” for photos and stories is a big one.

  5. I must admit that Tivo has been recording Northern Exposure for me, and I’ve been putting them on DVD myself. The new Tivo2Go is pretty handy 🙂

  6. Alan, I think there is a small flaw in your argument. The problem is that *they’ve already sold their creation.* It was a part of a product: the TV show. They were paid a lot of money to allow it in that product in the first place, and now they want *more* money if the producers of that product want to continue to sell it through a different channel. Some would consider that extortion. Personally, I just consider it greedy.

    As an analogy, say you write a book, and buy paper to have it printed on. You sell the book at your local bookstore, and then decide to sell it on Amazon. Suddenly the paper company says “no, that’s the Internet. You have to pay us for the paper again if you are going to sell it on the Internet.”

    I’m sure that the contract that was originally signed had a clause in it as to royalties for future use (syndication and such) so it’s of course legal, but that doesn’t make it right.

  7. No flaw, Charles. You will find in the license allowing the producers to use the music for only certain purposes and media will be included. The DVD release is a new purpose likely not contemplated in the license. It is more like the illustrations for a book than the pages. If I illustrate for a limited high-end publication of a book, subsequent cheaper editions do not get to use the illustrations as well – unless, of course, I agree and the publishers pay.

    Just because the creators of an intangible something like art or a software program are smart enough to have a lawyer protect and reserve the ownership rights doesn’t make it a dirty move. It makes those creators smart. You know, the producers of Northern Exposure were all grown-up adults wealthy with their own lawyers and likely chose to pay less for the license to the music because it they bought limited copying capacity. Blame the producers for your unhappiness, not the music owners.

  8. Isn’t the problem here that everyone’s being greedy so noone’s making money and the customers are disapointed. They have a product that people want to buy and all they have to do is agree that everyone gets a share of the pie. By arguing over the portions of the pie, noone gets a slice at all and the customer ultimately doesn’t fork over money he or she is willing to spend on a product he or she actually wants. Lame. Reminds me of a certain sporting league that isn’t playing games right now — ultimately the fan always loses.

  9. Talk about greed! Universal Studios were selling episodes of NORTHERN EXPOSURE on VHS tape a few years ago for $2 per episode. Now they are selling the first 2 Seasons for around $50 to $60 (about $7 per episode). However the latest word is that Season 3 (with 23 episodes) will be released on 3 discs (4 episodes per side on 3 double-sided discs?) and released on June 14th, for around $60 for the package. It is not know if the original music will once more be substituted with “elevator music”.

    By comparison, I am able to sell DVDs of the original version (as aired in the 1990’s, and with out cuts, except to eliminate commercials) for less than $2 per episode, 5 episodes per disc.


  10. Art: Yeah right, greed. And your illegal copies are giving royalties to the actors, producers, and other people involved in the show? All the money goes to you for a questionable (and almost certainly illegal) service. Give me a break, you’re just a leech on the side of a great television show.

  11. Anonymous Dave,

    I guess you feel very self-righteous writing your last post. If I was in it for the money I am sure I could charge a lot more money. If you love the show so much, I challenge you to do it for less than $2 per episode. BTW, I don’t offer episodes which are already available commercially, even though my price is much lower. It is because I love the show too. art

  12. Ha! Damn big guys’ plans have been foiled. The underground has so much more power than many think …

    And, is it just me who gets irked when watching reruns of West Wing on Bravo and that horrible, totally inappropriate/unfitting upbeat music plays at the end of each episode? Gah!

  13. It is understandable that there are many misconceptions about licensing copywritten music, and for the most part, since the Industry doesn’t criticize itself, the Industry is quick to blame the recording artist for the problem. Of course, in some cases as in all things, there is some truth to these accusations. However, overall, it has been my experience that this is far from the truth. Quality music, well synchronized with visuals, enchances a program or film or commercial. The network stations and their producers are simply unwilling to pay a “fair” price for someone’s creative work. And many are simply unwilling to even credit the artist on the packaging if the program goes to DVD/VHS. Not all artists are rich, and there is little acknowledgement or respect about the struggles, both creatively and financially, of the guy in his studio writing the music that is the foundation of their business’s. Networks make oceans of money, (HBO just announced that it make over a Billion dollars in profits) and many, (but not all), are simply greedy business men who don’t respect someone’s creative work and figure they can cut the artist out and replace quality work with junk and think no one will notice.

  14. This is why I’m using the Tivo of Tomorrow: BitTorrent HDTV downloads of shows that I’ve missed. If only they didn’t have the little channel logos stamped on them…

  15. As some of you will have noticed, as of June, 2005, Hallmark has now completely stopped airing our beloved “Northern Exposure”. And as most of you know, as a service to loyal fans, I can offer high quality episodes of NX for less than $2 per episode, recorded digitally from a digital source in Canada. However. I will not be offering episodes which have been released commercially. This will include Season 3 after June 14, – though I could be persuaded to keep offering Season 2, since I can offer it with the original music, (unlike the commercially released version with its elevator music).


  16. This is my first time posting on this site, but I have been lucky enough to receive 5 dvd’s from Art each with 5 episodes of the greatest show in the history of television, Northern Exposure. Now they are coming out for purchase in the stores and that is cool, but Art’s are cheaper and better. We must keep Cicely alive, and Art is certainly doing his part. So no more talk about copyright this and illegal that, lets all just celebrate a little town in Alaska where we can go to escape the worry and woes of our lives. Lets have a beer at the Brick or go to Ruth Anne’s store. We could be asked to a poker game out at Ron and Eric’s, or go fishing with Walt. I know I have treasured all these experiences and I will continue to as I embark on them again and again. Peace.

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  18. By popular demand, and since they are not forth coming commercially with original music, I am now offering any of the 6 Seasins of Northern Exposure for $45 (plus $10 for mailing), or Seasons 2 to 6 (inclusive) for $199 US$ (with Season 1 thrown in as a freebie if desired). Everyone who has ordered them (except Ted, – who hasn’t seen them) are VERY happy with the quality.

    NOTE: Ted’s version of the episodes are not up to scratch since they have been made from old (analog) tapes, instead of being recorded digitally, directly from a digital source.

    art (who is not afraid to include his address, unlike sleezy Ted)

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