CBC Held To Ransom Over Hockey Theme Song

[This post originally appeared on Techdirt.]

Hockey Night in Canada is an award-winning program that airs on Saturday nights on CBC Television featuring eccentric hosts, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry. The show has been broadcast on television weekly since 1952 (Wikipedia claims it’s the “oldest sports-related television program still on the air”) and it has become a cultural rallying point in a hockey-crazy country.

The Hockey Night in Canada theme song has been used on the show since 1968 and has become a Canadian “national treasure” (some say a “second national anthem”), but, last week, a licensing dispute brought that to an end. The CBC was already involved in a legal dispute with the rights holder and both sides failed to reach an agreement in negotiations to relicense the song for next season. The Hockey Theme, written by Dolores Claman, was costing the CBC $500 CAD for each game broadcast, by far the highest price for a theme song in Canadian broadcasting. The CBC offered Copyright Music & Visuals — the agency representing Claman — nearly $1 million CAD to buy out the rights to the song, but the agency was demanding $2.5 million to $3 million for use in perpetuity. The CBC has since announced plans to launch a new songwriting contest in association with Nettwerk Music Group, offering $100,000 to the winner. In an interesting twist, CTV — a privately owned competitor of the CBC — reached a deal to buy out the rights to the song shortly after negotiations with the CBC fell apart.

The most interesting part of the story is the question of who created the value surrounding the song. Would the song be a cultural icon if the CBC hadn’t licensed it for the past four decades? Would it be worth $3 million CAD? Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports, notes that “the only reason that it had the value that it has and the ability that they had to monetize that by selling it to a third party is because of the long association with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.” (audio stream – 2:05)

The CBC, a broadcaster funded by taxpayers, was being held to ransom for a song which they had made valuable.

This seems to be a perfect example of our current intellectual property systems favouring invention at the expense of innovation, favouring creators at the expense of those who might add value to their creations.

(Shout out to Joel Alleyne for tipping me off to this story.)

[Read the comments on Techdirt.]

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