Baby Driver was a surprising take on the relationship between music and film in the midst of the summer doldrums. Edgar Wright made the music video we all day dream of while listening to music in the car into a full length feature film. It’s an idea we’ve all wished we could produce, executed in a way that only a crafted eye can. Despite its craftsmanship and clear understanding of the importance of music, Sony Pictures Entertainment is now in a copyright battle with Marc Bolan for the song “Deborah”. This misstep begs the question, “Is it still worth it to see Baby Driver”?
Failure to procure sync licenses is not an uncommon issue, particularly in the digital age where technology and platforms move much faster than legislature. However, there are a few reasons this particular copyright lawsuit between Sony Pictures Entertainment and Rolan Feld (Marc Bolan’s son and current copyright holder) doesn’t make sense. Right off the bat, Sony owns the second largest major label in the world, so they should know better. Plus, the movie was written around music, meaning production should not have even started until every song was secured legally. Since movies are not an overnight project, if permission to use the song wasn’t being granted quickly enough, they should’ve used an alternate song.
As of 2012, Sony is one of only three major labels left in the world. One could argue that film and music are separate, but this is not a small production house. Sony Pictures Entertainment has more than enough experience and capital to understand the importance of sync licenses in their films. There is simply no excuse. Clearly legislation or the HFA need to come up with a solution to penalize copyright offenders in a way that doesn’t only favor artists who can afford court costs.
As for Edgar Wright, whose grasp of copyright law I cannot speak to, did pick a potentially tough situation for Sony. Many screenwriters may draw inspiration from music, but if the music director is unable to secure licensing, another song is chosen. Often times the soundtrack is decided last, based solely on which licenses are secured in time. In this particular movie, the music dictates certain non-dance choreography, so switching a song in or out would completely ruin hours of filming. With this in mind, why would filming begin before every song was secured? If a project is that dependent on its soundtrack, why take the risk? I can only assume that Sony decided a lawsuit was part of the cost of the film based on this carelessness.
This brings us back to an escape route. Halting production for a sync license is costly, totally understandable. That being said, this particular song title becomes the love interest’s name. There is no shortage of female named songs in the world, so a replacement was not difficult to find. It’s standard practice in film and TV to use a song as a placeholder until songs are paid for, so it’s possible that one song fell through the cracks (still hard to believe but we’ll try). I don’t blame Wright for this at all; I applaud his vision for including a specific soundtrack. Securing licenses can be a long process and it’s possible he was assured that the license would come through before the film hit the big screen. If he was aware that this was an issue, changing the song to something else would’ve been the best way to honor the music and musicians that inspire his art. As a musician, it’s tough not to take this copyright issue a little personally, knowing that it could easily be your unpaid art in its place. Again, I’m glad Rolan Feld can afford to fight for his father’s work, but that’s not the case for most musicians.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Regardless of the copyright issues, the movie is beautifully done. Kevin Spacey is as Kevin Spacey as you hope he would be, the soundtrack is awesome, and I’m never disappointed to see Jon Hamm. In the interest of people who haven’t seen this movie yet, you should go see it. Even if artistic integrity is pointed north on your moral compass, the odds of this case not being settled are low. Better yet, if they don’t settle, the movie might be taken out of theaters and disappear altogether. Either way, it’s time for copyright law to benefit innovators and unestablished artists the way it was intended.
Image Source: Vox