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Monday, 10 December 2012

Do brands know the pitfalls of parodying songs?

Doritos "parodies" East 17's "Stay Another Day"

Many brands like to take existing well-known songs and adapt them to the needs of a particular campaign. This typically involves the creation of a new sound recording, thereby avoiding the need to secure clearance from the record label that controls the original artist recording.

However, any use of the underlying "composition" or song requires approval from the relevant music publisher. Where this usage involves a change of lyrics or any arrangement that could be considered as "sending up" the song, publishers deem this use to be a parody. In these instances, it's almost always the case that the original songwriter's consent is required, which may be denied if they don't feel comfortable with the use.

Doritos use of East 17's "Stay Another Day" in its latest campaign can safely be assumed to be a parody use. However, the brand was smart in inviting East 17 band member Tony Mortimer to have a cameo role in the TV spot. As Mortimer has the majority writing share of the song "Stay Another Day", he would effectively hold the casting vote on whether it could be parodied in the way that Doritos wished. A cameo role in the TV spot would encourage greater engagement with the campaign plus, one would hope, an additional appearance fee on top of the synchronisation licence fee paid to Mortimer's music publisher (of which he would expect to receive the majority share).

So, what can brands learn from this example:

1. Clearing songs for parody use always takes longer than non-parody use. Allow plenty of time, say at least 2 - 3 weeks if possible.

2. Be precise and up-front about the exact proposed use of the song.

3. Avoid building the script around a specific song, which allows the brand to have back-up song choices. Also, never mention a specific song title in the script, which just demonstrates to the music publisher the extent to which the song is essential to the creative idea.

4. Without back-ups, the music publisher has significantly more leverage in the fee negotiations and the brand has little. In any event, a parody use will always attract a premium fee compared with a non-parody use.

5. Offering the songwriter(s) greater involvement in the campaign (e.g. a cameo role) will encourage greater engagement with the campaign and hopefully improve the chance of securing clearance of the chosen song.

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