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Uh-oh. The MuchMusic documentary may have used unlicensed music from Universal Music

The MuchMusic documentary 299 Queen Street West may have a legal issue. Director Sean Menard says he’s heard from Universal Music Canada that the film includes unlicensed music clips.

As reported in Billboard, a possible cease-and-desist order could be forthcoming as Universal contends that many of the 80 video clips in the film are from Universal Artists and proper permission was not sought nor was payment made.

The issue is that Universal says that the clips–which were taken from the Much and CityTV archives–were not specifically licensed from the label for the film. Menard doesn’t seem to dispute this. Per Billboard:

“’I knew I could not afford to license all these short clips,’ he says. He didn’t license the clips, but he argues he also didn’t need to, as the clips could be considered fair use. Menard says that UMC disputes his fair use claim and says they’re threatening possible legal action to prevent further screenings of the documentary.”

If you want to get into the weeds, Universal is looking at a Canadian copyright concept called “fair dealing.” The US uses something slightly different called “fair use.” Again from Billboard:

“’In Canada, fair dealing is a narrow exception that allows some prescribed uses of music without licensing, but only for certain specific purposes that don’t undermine the music marketplace’ says a spokesperson for Music Canada. ‘Uses of music in documentaries that don’t meet this narrow exception require a sync license, as do other kinds of films and TV programs.’” Most of Menard’s copyright advice seem to have come from a California firm.

There’s no legal action at the moment, but there will have to be discussions. Until this is sorted out, the general public may not get a chance to see the doc. However, the current tour of screenings across the country will continue. Menard is hoping that revenues from the tour will help pay off lingering investments in the film.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38319 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Uh-oh. The MuchMusic documentary may have used unlicensed music from Universal Music

  • I feel for the guy, but crikey, does he have no clue about music licensing? The definition of fair dealing in Canada is significantly narrower in Canada, which kind of explains why we don’t have our own Weird Al Yankovic as well.


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