The culture of elites whining about fame advanced a touch last week, via a news release from the disbanded group R.E.M. The rockers were miffed that Fox News, in its reports on the Democratic National Convention, had made use of the band’s 1991 hit “Losing My Religion.”
R.E.M. ..., through its music publisher, Warner-Tamerlane Music, demanded that Fox News cease and desist from continuing its unlicensed and unauthorized use of the song. Michael Stipe said, “We have little or no respect for their puff adder brand of reportage. Our music does not belong there.”
Thematically it does. Fox News, after all, was reporting on the massive Democratic Party screwup in which a reference to God fell from the official platform. Someone in Fox World surely got a pat on the back for piping in two-decades-old R.E.M.
The precise circumstances of the R.E.M. rotation on Fox are a bit unclear. Fox hasn’t responded to requests for comment. A publicist with Warner-Tamerlane Music declined to comment on the matter or to cite the Fox segment in which the alleged offense took place. Nor did the publicist say whether Fox has replied to the complaint.
The news release, however, does offer a critical detail about the little dustup — namely, that the song was played during the “coverage” of the convention, not in an advertisement for Fox News.
The distinction matters, as University of Florida legal eagle Clay Calvert explains. “If Fox was using only a small snippet of the song during a newscast rather than a commercial, then Fox is most likely protected by the fair-use defense to copyright law,” Calvert writes via e-mail.
Hooray! Groups like R.E.M. cannot have it both ways. As artists, their goal is to produce material that reaps fans, fame and money — to thrust their work onto a sprawling culture. Mission accomplished, in this case.
That very resonance may occasionally make their work appealing to outfits that don’t share the values of the artists. Too bad. “R.E.M.creates pop-cultural artifacts, and if someone wants to twist and use them in a different sense than they were originally intended, then they probably should have the right to do that,” notes Calvert, director of the University of Florida’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.
Fair use is my hero.