“Singing”

Is there something in the hyperspace? William Shatner, best known for his portrayal of Captain Kirk on Star Trek, is rather infamous for his spoken-song style. Now TechDirt draws our attention to James Earl Jones, who gave voice to Darth Vader in Star Wars, who is apparently jumping in on the act:

the great actor James Earl Jones recites some Justin Bieber lyrics while a guest on the Gayle King Show.

Here’s a direct link to the YouTube video.

As TechDirt’s Mike Masnick asks,

So here’s a simple question: is this copyright infringement? Did the Gayle King Show properly license the lyrics from the copyright holder? Perhaps it did, but we’ve seen music publishers get pretty worked up about various websites posting lyrics online and have heard stories about books not being able to be published because they quoted snippets of lyrics without a license.

Assuming fair use is off the table, I don’t think JEJ’s recitation qualifies for the compulsory license provisions of U.S. copyright law because he was performing on TV — he would have needed a synchronization license.  Moreover, according to 17 U.S.C. section 115(a)(2):

A compulsory license includes the privilege of making a musical arrangement of the work to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved, but the arrangement shall not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work, and shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work under this title, except with the express consent of the copyright owner. [emphasis added]

I think we can all agree that JEJ changed the basic melody of this work.

Of course, there is no doubt a simpler explanation for all this.  Bieber’s song “Baby” is repped by ASCAP, and ASCAP offers blanket licenses that allow for TV broadcasts of their works.  I’m guessing the Gayle King Show (or, more likely, the Oprah Winfrey Network) simply paid the requisite fees.