Newport State Of Mind: why has it been removed?

Tuesday 10 August 2010, 13:10

James McLaren James McLaren

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YouTube has been forced to remove Newport (Ymerodraeth State Of Mind) from its servers due to a copyright claim by EMI Music Publishing Ltd.

For the time being, at least, Goldie Lookin' Chain's response, You're Not From Newport, is still available on the site, as is a performance at the Transporter Bridge (warning: links contain strong language).

I have thought since this video first came to light that there was a certain legal ambiguity to the song and its lyrics. While straight cover versions are entirely legal (as long as properly credited) and a staple of the music business from the very top to the very bottom, interpretations of existing songs are a different matter altogether.

'Substantial rewrite' is a pseudo-legal term in the music industry meaning that when you're covering a song or using an element of a song - whether lyrically or musically - it requires the permission of the original copyright holder.

This can be a complex process: you get in touch with the Performing Right Society, the organisation responsible for the administration of song copyrights (music and lyrics, but not recording) in the UK. The PRS works with their relevant partner organisations across the world (in the USA it's ASCAP and the BMI), who then find out from the relevant publisher whether the songwriter is amenable to the rewrite.

Obviously this laborious process means that the vast majority of rewrites, pastiches and spoofs are ignored or simply never heard about. There's a certain level of publish-and-be-damned to it; who cares when you're playing to 50 people in a club?

But the power of the internet means that something can blow up - go viral, if you prefer an awful expression - and suddenly who can turn a blind eye to it? Two and a half million YouTube hits meant that the publishers of the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' original almost had no choice but to knock it on the head.

Jemima Kiss in The Guardian wrote, "OK, it's a rip-off of the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song. But it has a significant amount of original work, video, rewritten lyrics and a good concept. Isn't that fair use?"

However, the fact that it does have original work and rewritten lyrics, plus the sheer volume of hits, means it's skating into the middle of a frozen lake wearing stilletoes. Sure it would be nice if we could all get along and things could be done on the nod-and-the-wink, but the music industry doesn't work like that.

Assuming that the video was taken down because of the 'substantial rewrite' regulations, it's a shame but not unexpected.

Update (11 August, 9am): A statement from EMI, quoted by Radio 1's Newsbeat, said, "When a song is created based wholly on any of our writers' works, those writers need to grant their permission.

"If that permission isn't granted, then we ask the service in question to remove the song."

The director of the video, MJ Delaney, said she was unable to comment at the moment.

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    Comment number 1.

    Interestingly, in the USA, the fair use and parody doctrine (see has been used to allow for alterations to an original text... but that depends on having a lot of lawyer power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The internet is a wonderful thing - they'll never be able to actually stop it, not whilst there's fans around that love it and want to listen to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    There is clearly too much gray hair at EMI to see what youth needs and wants, their responses to these sorts of situations, makes them full time members of the grumpy old men’s club.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    In particular as this use of some of the original work is not in any way pretending to, or threatening any harm to, the original version (which is probably being listened to by a larger audience who before the spoof would have rightly ignored the self-important, falsely sincere and dull original), this won't go away. I'm sure there will be lots of people who simply download the versions online now, using any of the youtube converters out there, and at the flick of a switch upload another copy to youtube: the very definition of 'viral' and creating de facto a fair outcome without a single lawyer being paid a penny. The future looks bright :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I have personal experience of the music industry (I worked in it for years).

    "The song contains a music sample of the 1970 single "Love on a Two-Way Street" by the band The Moments, the sample being the piano component that runs throughout the song"* As such, the actual melody of the track is not able to be published, as it has already been published by "The Moments in 1970.
    While the vocal melody is protected, it's use by the parody would constitute fair usage.
    Obviously, if any samples were used, they would need to be cleared, and paid for, but if no samples were used, this could be seen as a malicious prosecution, designed to hurt the creators of the parody.
    Also, if this legal case has been begun in the US, they will fall foul of the legal case law protecting Parody under the 1st amendment, and EMI will lose.

    It looks to me like EMI has called in the lawyers on a knee jerk reaction, which has been exacerbated by their current financial issues, and hopefully, once they have actually looked at this clearly, they will remove their objections.

    I am not a lawyer, and pretty rusty on my musical law, so the above is only a personal opinion, and should not be taken as gospel.

    *Direct quote from Wikipedia,


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