Have you ever been rick-rolled? I have…several times. I didn’t really find it funny, just confusing, because I had no idea I was the butt of an Internet joke. (I don’t get out much.)
If you’re reading this and thinking I’m hopelessly naive, read no further unless you want to find out what’s not quite so funny about rick-rolling. If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about, being ‘rick-rolled’ is when you click on a link that you think is taking you to one place, but it instead re-directs you to a YouTube performance of Rick Astley singing his hit ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ from which you then can’t escape… trying to exit the clip just opens another version of the same clip in a new window. Hilarious! Not.
In the process of trying to discover why this ‘trick’ was supposed to be funny, I learned that despite it having been played 39 million times, Google had originally paid Astley only $12 in royalties on the basis that he hadn’t written the song, but merely performed it. (It was written by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman, also known as SAW, a UK song-writing team that has had more than 100 UK top-40 hits and sold more than 52 million albums.) After being taken to a German court by an alliance of composers and songwriters' performance rights societies, Google apparently cut Astley another cheque, but the amount has never been publicly disclosed (TTBOMK).
I was reminded of Mr Astley’s plight by a recent court case filed by none other than Harry Shearer, one-time bass player for the mythic band Spinal Tap, who has filed a $US125 million suit against Vivendi and its agents, including StudioCanal and Universal Music Group, claiming that those companies manipulated accounting data and ignored contractually-obligated accounting and reporting processes, all of which had the effect of denying Shearer and the other members of Spinal Tap their rightful share of profits in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, the soundtrack to that movie, and merchandising arising from it. Despite their contract guaranteeing the band 40 per cent of net receipts from the movie, the merchandising and sales of the soundtrack, the band has reportedly received only $US81 dollars… so just over $US20 each, from Vivendi.
Sales figures shown to the court reportedly show that over a period of 32 years (from 1989 to 2006), Vivendi reported total income from soundtrack music sales as being just $US98, and the total income from merchandising sales as zero. But surely they made money from the movie itself? Apparently the band members did make a small amount from the movie, but only after 27 years of almost continuous screening, during which time it made New York Times’ ‘Greatest Movies Ever Made’ list, Total Film’s ‘Greatest Movies of all Time’ list, and London’s Time Out named it the best comedy movie ever made. So when you consider that it cost less than $US2.3 million to make in the first place, you’d have to wonder why it took 27 years to recoup its production costs.
Given the above, it’s no surprise that almost all the ‘Top-20’ books about the music industry concern the methods record companies have found to rip off musicians contracted to work for them. One can only hope that Shearer, who as well as being the ‘voice’ of Mr Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders and numerous other Simpsons characters, is also a multi-award winning actor, political satirist, comedian, film director, screenwriter, musician, producer, songwriter, author and radio broadcaster has both the cash and the legs (he’s 72), to be able to stay the course in order to see justice done. You can follow the case HERE # greg borrowman