July 16, 2018 / 6:28 PM

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Liberation Music, label for Phoenix, legally threatens Harvard Law professor; surprisingly loses


The first lesson in this story is that you should avoid engaging in lawsuits with professors from the Harvard School of Law. Many a recent President has graduated from that particular program, and with good reason. They know more about legal proceedings than we do. Liberation Music, the label for French alt-rockers Phoenix, did not take this into consideration, and is now paying for it

The story begins when Liberation got word that Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig was using Phoenix's "Lisztomania" as part of a video lecture. The professor incorporated the song into a lecture regarding the topic of "call and response" videos on YouTube. For example, Lessig set scenes from the film The Breakfast Club to the tune of the Phoenix track. Response videos used the song to show off clips of the user's hometown. Lessig, being a community-friendly professor we suppose, uploaded the video to YouTube for non-Ivy Leaguers like us to consider. 

Liberation caught wind and demanded YouTube remove the video, claiming copyright issues, and the service complied. Lessig took notice, and sent a counter-notice to Liberation, pointing out that the video is a fairly straightforward example of "fair use," a policy that allows educators and others to use copyrighted material for educational purposes. Liberation basically said "nuh-uh" by threatening to take him to court if he didn't retract the notice. 

Lessig sensed an easy win, and together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued Liberation. The two sides have since settled out of court. Liberation will pay an undisclosed amount. The record label did its best to make the incident appear as a misunderstanding. 

"We regret that Liberation issued a take-down notice with respect to Professor Lessig's video," said Warren Costello, the managing director for the label. "It was removed by a member of our staff without being reviewed and under a misunderstanding of the relevant law. Upon learning of the mistake we immediately reinstated Professor Lessig's video, amended our review process and have worked co-operatively with Professor Lessig to resolve this matter as quickly as possible." 

The good news for fans of Phoenix is that the band wasn't at all involved with the aforementioned idiocy. The group put a message of support for Lessig on its blog recently. 

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