Theatrical Rights Worldwide v. Brian Li

Today, I woke up at 4 a.m. to 78 unread emails. Thanks, jet lag. One of the emails was a letter from Theatrical Rights Worldwide claiming I had infringed on copyright by licensing my own MainStage programming for THE ADDAMS FAMILY. After reading through the letter, I promptly went back to sleep for a few more hours.

I try to be as transparent as possible, so here’s the letter with my comments.

September 4, 2016

Mr. Brian Li

** Synth Works**

Dear Mr. Li,

Theatrical Rights Worldwide, acting on behalf of the copyright owners and authors is the sole and exclusive, worldwide theatrical licensing agent and distributor for all live-stage productions, script and music rehearsal and performance products of the musical play entitled THE ADDAMS FAMILY (the “Play”) and in accordance with our exclusive representation, any and all productions, script and music rehearsal and performance products and all script, music and orchestration materials in any format (print, pdf, audio, video, electronic, digital or otherwise) in whole or any part thereof must be authorized and licensed by us.

A flute is an instrument. Synth Programming is an instrument. A trumpet is a performance product. Synth Programming is a performance product. Do you authorize the woodwind doubler’s instruments? Are you in the instrument rental business now?

As detailed on mainstage/ and it has come to our attention that you, your organization, founders, directors and employees has publicized, produced and is making available for sale, distribution and download keyboard programming materials relating to the Play.

Your inclusion of keyboard programming materials for the Play is a serious, blatant and willful infringement of the copyrighted elements of the Play, thereby entitling the copyright owners and authors to injunctive and other appropriate relief to the full extent of international law.

Unfortunately for you, there is no serious, blatant, and willful infringement of the copyrighted elements of the Play going on whatsoever. In order to fully grasp this, you need to understand exactly what synth programming is. Let me explain.

Flip through any modern keyboard book, and you’ll see many “patches”. A patch is a combination of sound sources split across a keyboard. These sounds are chosen by the musical’s orchestrator, and are typically given descriptive names like “acoustic piano,” “warm strings,” or “airy synth pad”.

As a synth programmer, my job is to design sounds that correspond to my perception and understanding of these sonic descriptions. Following the sound design process, I arrange completed patches in the order suggested by a musical score. In the end, synth programming is simply a sonic interpretation (not an infringement) of an orchestrator’s musical ideas.

Furthermore, how is synth programming different from a guitarist designing a “chorused guitar” sound or a drummer designing an “80s snare” sound on an electronic drum kit? There is no difference, except TRW doesn’t offer programming products for the latter two examples. Are you going to send letters to all the guitarists and drummers out there as well? Are you going to send letters to the thousands of music directors who are forced to program their own keyboards due to low production budgets?

Exactly which “copyrighted elements of the Play” does self-produced synth programming infringe upon? I’m not licensing anything that was created by TRW. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board with your synth programmer to form a stronger argument.

On behalf of Theatrical Rights Worldwide and the copyright owners and authors demand is hereby made that you immediately cease and desist from any further publicity, production and sales of any keyboard programming or other music materials as comprised in the Play and immediately remove any and all content relating to the Play from your website. Furthermore, no later than September 12, 2016, you shall provide Theatrical Rights Worldwide with a certified accounting of any and all income you have received from all sources in connection with your sale, distribution and download of each and every item associated with the Play in all territories along with the group names and email addresses of all persons who licensed and/or received your keyboard programming materials.

Sorry. Not happening.

After we have received the foregoing, including confirmation that the Play has been removed from your website, we will contact you regarding any additional information required and the appropriate course of action.

Nothing contained in this letter or omitted herefrom shall be deemed to be a waiver or relinquishment of any rights or remedies whatsoever that the respective copyright owners/authors of the Play may have in connection with this matter, all of which rights and remedies, whether at law or in equity, are hereby expressly reserved. This email/letter is without prejudice to the rights of our clients, all of which are expressly reserved.

Your immediate attention to this matter is required.

Very truly yours,

Steve Spiegel

President & CEO

TRW, I know competition is scary, but bullying creative people is not the only option. Instead, here are two more productive proposals.

Create a Better Product

This one’s simple. Use better sounds and take advantage of MainStage 3’s features to create a better and more valuable product for your customers.

Invest in Marketing

A quick look at my monthly analytics report reveals over 90% of my web traffic is of the organic search engine variety. This means Google alone is responsible for over 120,000 page views every month. Check this out.

This is what happens when you Google “trw keyboard programming”.

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Here are the results for “trw mainstage programming”.

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Here are the search results for “mainstage programming”.

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Finally, here are the search results for “addams family keyboard programming”.

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What’s the lesson to be learned here?

The truth is over 65% of web traffic originates from organic searches. Thus proper search engine optimization should be part of any solid business plan. It’s no surprise your potential customers end up here instead. Including “TRW” in search queries still puts ahead of your own company’s website.

In summary, competition is good for everyone involved. If you want to compete, create a better product and improve your marketing tactics.* Sending empty copyright infringement threats is exactly what you SHOULD NOT be doing.

In Theatre