The Sad Hypocrisy of the Clockwork Orange YouTube Lawsuit

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After uploading an analysis of Stanley Kubrick movies to YouTube, UK-based Lewis Criswell is now being sued by the company behind the main theme to the 1971 classic, A Clockwork Orange. The sad thing here is that while the piece is incredible, it too is a copy, having being written by composer Henry Purcell, 321 years ago.

clockwork-logoLike many who first heard the news last weekend, I don’t admitting that I was moved by a video uploaded by YouTuber Lewis Bond. Seeing someone scared – terrified even – isn’t fun.

An aspiring young filmmaker, Bond runs Channel Criswell on YouTube and his work shows excellent promise for a fruitful career. Sadly, his immediate future looks decidedly more gloomy.

The details can be found here, but essentially a 20 minute video analysis of Stanley Kubrick movies created by UK-based Bond has provoked a lawsuit from a company holding the copyrights to some of the music tracks featured in the background.

In a nutshell, Bond appears to have a firm belief that he has a strong fair-use case. Serendip LLC, which owns the copyrights to the music featured in the 1971 movie ‘A Clockwork Orange’, beg to differ. Take a moment or two to listen to the track in question at the start of the video below, it’s important.

The end result is a lawsuit which could see Bond on the receiving end of $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringement. From everything seen to date, it seems unlikely the 23-year-old can come up with that kind of cash. It’s possible he’ll struggle to finance a defense.

Seeing Bond visibly choked was a sad sight and it got me thinking. While undoubtedly a wonderful and timeless piece of music, is a track from 1971 really bringing in the money for Clockwork Orange composer Wendy Carlos today? Has Bond’s fleeting reproduction of a part of this track in his documentary caused real financial damage?

I don’t have the answer to those questions but while researching this case I came across something that surprised even me, a huge ClockWork Orange fan. Although arranged and performed by Carlos, the main theme from A Clockwork Orange isn’t her work at all. In fact, the entire piece – virtually note for note – has been lifted from a piece penned by composer Henry Purcell.

Born in England in September 1659, Purcell developed into what many consider to be one of the country’s greatest composers. His 1695 piece ‘Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary’ was played at the funeral of Queen Mary II, who had died in December of the previous year.

It is an abridged version of this music that forms the entire basis of Carlos’ 1971 work. Arrangement and beautiful synthesizer work aside, it’s virtually identical.

Purcell died in 1695 and quite rightfully his work is now in the public domain. As a result Wendy Carlos was absolutely within her right to take this piece and run with it and as a supporter of remix culture, I salute her efforts entirely.

Sadly, however, I can’t help but note the sad hypocrisy here. Just for a moment, let’s cast aside the legalities of copyright law and instead focus on the notion of artists using the work of others to create new art.

In the 1970s, Carlos took Purcell’s work and modernized it beautifully and there are now millions of people out there who only know her version of the work. By taking his work, she has touched audiences in a way Purcell could not. It’s probably worth noting that Carlos undoubtedly made more money from Purcell’s work than Purcell ever did too, and good for her.

Like Carlos before him, Lewis Bond is also somewhat of a remixer. His Kubrick analysis by Serendip’s own description is a “mélange of brief snippets” and he too is bringing the work of the filmmaker and indeed Wendy Carlos to a brand new audience that Purcell himself could only dream of. I’d like to think Purcell would be pleased for their success.

Importantly, in the same manner that Carlos paid homage to Purcell with her work, by opening his video with Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary the main theme from Clockwork Orange, in turn Bond paid homage to Carlos. It strikes me that rather than having disrespect for each other, all involved in this downward chain deeply appreciate each other’s talents.

Of course, since Bond’s channel is monetized, Carlos believes she should be paid for her work. Bond, on the other hand, is stuck in a fair use dilemma, and will have to fight an expensive court battle to find out who is in the right. Let’s face it, that is not going to happen.

Bond is unlikely to put up any kind of fight and whatever happens – win or lose – Serendip/Carlos aren’t going to get a penny from Bond in the UK. What I’m saying today is that among business people – among artists – in today’s climate there must be a better way to sort this out.

Getting the parties to talk might not be easy, but there are plenty of options if they just take the opportunity. Bond won’t have made much from his video, but paying a small sum to Carlos might be an option, if he doesn’t have the stomach for a fair use war.

The option I like best, however, is a collaboration. Carlos has talents. Bond has talents too. So, as artists, why not do something together? When it comes down to it they have a lot in common. Both have made new creative works on the backs of other people’s efforts without paying them a dime. That alone provides the basis for discussion – they’re already on the same page.

But most of all, why are people wasting each other’s lives with these pointless lawsuits? On YouTube there are plenty of instances where people have uploaded the whole of Carlos’ work, literally a full-fledged pirate copy of everything notable she’s ever done. They’re freely available on the platform today yet Bond – someone who brings something creative to the party – faces financial ruination? That makes no sense.

Although Wendy Carlos and her representatives failed to respond to our requests for comment, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. A TorrentFreak reader managed to make contact with someone on Wendy Carlos’ site who fired back quite an email. It ends as follows:

“There is much bad advice on the internet about copyright and the use of music on YouTube, but some very good advice that should be followed is not to post other people’s copyrighted music on the internet ‘because you like it and want others to hear it’,” the email reads.

“This YouTube user would also be well advised to follow the old saw that ‘when you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging.’ His problems might go away if he would just ‘undo’ his previous bad choices.”

That sounds like an olive branch. Someone might like to grab it.


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