And Finally Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #226: Steve Aoki v Wunderground

By | Published on Friday 3 October 2014

Steve Aoki

This week a new parody right entered into UK copyright law. It’s an ambiguous piece of legislation that allows you to use copyright works without licence for the purpose of parody, probably, if it’s “fair”, and non-competitive, and non-derogatory.

The reach of the new copyright exemption is very much open to interpretation, so it’s probably lucky for comedy website Wunderground that it has fallen foul of a law firm in the US, where the parody right is much older and more clearly defined. Someone’s going to have to be a test case for our own parody law, but I suspect Wunderground would rather not be it.

Anyway, for those not familiar with Wunderground, it’s a satirical website focussed entirely on the world of EDM. It makes up stuff about big name DJs like Calvin Harris and David Guetta in order to make people laugh. Satire and parody, that is what it deals in.

As one of the rewards in a crowdfunding campaign the site ran earlier this year, the website offered a t-shirt, bearing the slogan, “Ask me about my shit DJ impression”. How is that a problem? Well, if you were to pull the t-shirt up over your own face, it would show that printed on the inside was that of Steve Aoki.

You remember Steve Aoki, right? He recently wrote that 2500 word article denying accusations that he’s not very good at DJing, and that anyone who says he is on the grounds that he often leaves the decks to throw cake at people is dead wrong. (That’s not parody, he really does that).

Upon learning of the t-shirt’s apparent existence, Aoki’s lawyers wrote Wunderground a cease and desist letter. They accused the site of infringing various rights, including the DJ’s likeness rights and the copyright in an image owned by Ultra Records. All the t-shirts should be destroyed, they said. Any money from the crowdfunding campaign should be placed into a bank account controlled by Aoki, and detailed accounts should be handed over so that the lawyers could work out exactly how much they should ask for in damages.

Although Wunderground is based in Ireland, a US court would likely agree to hear the case because the t-shirt was available to people in America. Specifically California, in this instance

The man behind the site, Mikey Maguire, did not take kindly to this, penning a long, sarcastic response to the letter this week. In it he pointed out that the t-shirt in question had never actually gone into production. The cease and desist had come before any could be made, and only eleven people had actually requested it as a crowdfunding reward (though since this went viral, potential custom has probably shot up).

“I’ll use an analogy here, maybe one Steve can understand”, wrote Maguire. “If I own a cake shop, and had that cake shop open for a full month, 24 hours a day and seven days a week (in a similar fashion to the way the Indiegogo project ran online) and at the end of that month I’ve only sold eleven of a certain type of cake… well, you couldn’t beg me to stock that cake ever again. It’s a non-seller, a complete dud”.

The image used in the mock-up of the t-shirt, he also claimed, is not the one the lawyers claim it is. And regardless, at this point he invoked the US parody right, under which the appearance of Aoki’s face on the t-shirt would almost certainly be deemed ‘fair use’.

Wrote Maguire: “The image in question is clearly a completely different image to the one you claim we are reproducing, and is a complete parody based on this extremely public figure and his extremely controversial and ludicrous actions on stage. This man puts himself out there in the most public of fashions in a way that not only opens itself up to ridicule, but demands it. Steve has chosen to be this controversial public figure, perhaps he needs to build a bridge and accept that there are opinions out there concerning his public persona that he will not like, but it does not make them illegal”.

And as for handing over money and accounts – the latter, reckons Maguire, would contravene data protection laws in Ireland, and as for the former: “Your client couldn’t control a single buttoned CDJ, so he certainly isn’t going to control our bank account. As I have already stated, any funds in our account did not get there through reproducing your image, or by fulfilling orders for a non-existent shirt. T’was simply an idea we shall look back at in years to come while wondering where the hell Steve Aoki ever went to”.

Ironically, the spreading of this incident online this week has probably made people more aware of Steve Aoki. And it has certainly made people more aware of the concept that he might not be a competent DJ.