Belgian Band Wins Case Against Theater for Infringing Use of CC-Licensed Song

The CC BY-NC-ND license held its own in a Belgian court last week when a band called Lichôdmapwa won a lawsuit against a theater company in Brussels that commercially used a modified, unattributed version of one of their songs in an advertisement. One of the band members happened to hear the song on the radio one day; he wrote to the theater company and attempted to settle off the books, but that didn’t happen–instead, the two faced each other in court.

The court acknowledged that the terms of the CC license very clearly stated that the song 1. can’t be modified 2. can’t be used for commercial purposes and 3. must appear with attribution. It shot down the defense’s claim that it wasn’t aware of the terms–they’re very clearly outlined on the site the song was downloaded from. For each violated condition, the band was awarded 1500€.

It’s always great to see how a CC license can really protect creative work against wrongful use. If you read French, you can read the full text of the case here.

Image of band, lichoblamont.jpg, licensed under a CC BY NC SA by Lichodmapwa

3 thoughts on “Belgian Band Wins Case Against Theater for Infringing Use of CC-Licensed Song”

  1. It just goes to show, these people would probably be the first to complain if their theater show was video recorded and distributed without their permission.

    Good to see the judge could see through the defense’s claims.

  2. This is a scary example from the point of view of anyone using materials that are released under some Creative Commons license. If you misunderstand the terms, you can lose in court and have to pay a lot of money. And there are so many possibilities of what a “Creative Commons license” can be.

    I am a sound designer and I have found lots of high quality samples put out on the internet under various Creative Commons licenses. I feel uneasy using them because its not very clear what the terms are and possible ramifications. So I’m trying to comply with the license, but I am afraid of getting sued like in this case. Compare this to a standard old commercial sound effects library: there I pay some money upfront, but then the license is very clear about what I can do with it. One of these lawsuits would buy me very many commercial sound effects libraries, which I can then use freely for the rest of my life.

    So from my experience, the Creative Commons licenses are ghettoizing the content into a strictly amateur and beginner context. That makes me very sad, since the GPL has done the opposite: combined the work of amateurs and professionals into better and better software for all. So for the sound samples that I create, I always try to skip the CC licenses and release them in the public domain, so we can create something better than the current sample libraries with the fear of getting sued while trying to do the right thing.

  3. Hans-Christoph,

    Yes, complying with licenses is serious business. Don’t comply, and you have a copyright violation. I’m not sure why this case would be scary though — if it was misunderstanding, it was really gross misunderstanding, with zero attempt to comply. In fact suits are very rare.

    It is true there’s some competition between freely licensed works and commercially provided works, including stock images and sound effects. However, they are largely just different products with only some overlap in use.

    When making comparisons to free software, one ought be careful about sweeping conclusions. Non-software copyrightable material includes huge diversity. In some portions of this diversity there’s a much lower barrier to entry than there is to writing software. In others, eg some educational materials, data, research, there’s a high barrier to entry and lots of long-term collaborations that include institutions and full time professionals, much like the software world.

    In any case good for you for releasing sound samples into the public domain! This is great for everyone, including people who might want to use the samples in a song that they want to offer under a CC license. 🙂

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