Asheville musician caught in battle over YouTube tunes

Will Chatham didn’t exactly get cut down by a light saber, but he definitely feels burned.

Chatham does Web development and server administration for the federal government; in addition, he works on the side for Asheville Technologies, a local Web-development company. But Chatham is also a seasoned musician (he performs with the Whappers), and two years ago, he was playing around with his banjo and decided to pluck out the Star Wars theme song. He videotaped his performance and put it up on YouTube.

The quirky take went viral, and Chatham says it’s had more than 1.5 million views and received more than 7,000 comments online.

But that all came to a halt quicker than a Wookie can say “Chewbaca” when YouTube yanked the video on Jan. 18, noting that the Warner Music Group had lodged a copyright-infringement claim.

“I have a hard time understanding why they would have a problem with someone playing the song on the banjo,” says Chatham. “It just doesn’t make sense. I didn’t use any kind of graphics or sample the theme song. I would have considered it a parody or that sort of thing—fair use, as my understanding of the law goes.”

Chatham appears to have fallen victim to an ongoing dispute between Warner and YouTube. The music label says it’s not being paid enough for its music being played on the Web site and has demanded that Google, which owns YouTube, remove all the music from the site. Warner and four other labels want a dedicated music-video Web site that would be developed either as a separate service or in conjunction with an existing site such as YouTube.

The Jan. 26 edition of the L.A. Times also reports on the dispute, and Chatham’s small role. The newspaper notes that many YouTube users have been caught in the crossfire and are posting video rants in response. Click here to read the story.

For now, Chatham says he’s appealing YouTube’s decision to take down his banjo rendition of the epic Star Wars theme.

“Hopefully my counterclaim will go through,” he says, adding, “I’d like to get it back up there.”

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


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10 thoughts on “Asheville musician caught in battle over YouTube tunes

  1. Stephen Eggett

    As I understand it, YouTube’s policy is to immediately remove a video if there is a copyright related complaint. It then falls to the video maker to prove that their video is covered under “fair use.” I know this seems backward. You would think the burden of proof would be on the accuser (Warner Music), but alas, that is not the case.

  2. Piffy!

    “The music-industry is flailing it’s dying, paleolithic arms”, i believe has been said before.

  3. George Lucas is actually really cool about letting fans edit or spoof material, as long as it’s in good taste and not offensive. John Williams, I guess, is another matter.

  4. I’d suspect it’s more of a matter of Warner Brothers creating a list of properties they own and telling YouTube that anything even remotely related to any of their stuff has to come down. I seriously doubt the creators of those properties were involved in any way.

  5. entopticon

    I don’t think that a Wookie could actually say “Chewbaca.” They just make that weird grunting/howling sound.

  6. kjohn

    Uh-oh, my son played the Star Wars theme song at his piano recital and we taped it. I guess we owe Warner Music Group some money now.

  7. Pearly Soames

    Stephen, YouTube isn’t a court that is judging whether a submitter is infringing. They’re just trying to cover their own butts and avoid liability for contributing to the infringement (assuming there is one).

  8. Stephen Eggett

    I agree with you, Pearly. I just wish it wasn’t so. Sometimes the desire to comply with ownership laws seems to infringe on the desire to be creative and have a little fun. The world changes faster than the law, though.

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