“Glee” Ethics

Now that I know I’m not the only one to be a bit troubled by the gleefully unethical practices of the absurdly talented high school students in the performance choir chronicled in the Fox TV series “Glee,” I will conquer my fear of rampaging “Gleeks” and say so.

In addition to the annoyance of the teens being played by 30-year-olds, their absurdly accomplished performing skills, and most of all, the speed with which they arrange, choreograph and master complex musicals numbers that a no professional performing group could equal in less than a week of twelve-hour days, there is this: the students regularly violate the copyright laws by using music, lyrics and exact copies of video choreography in their numbers.

Yes, the producers of  “Glee” are really paying the artists involved; that’s not the point. The problem is that the show’s conceit contributes to an attitude among younger Americans (and a lot of old ones, like “The Ethicist,” Randy Cohen) that stealing intellectual property from artists is OK, everybody does it, and it is standard procedure. This encourages an unethical and illegal practice by glamorizing it, and also misinforms viewers who may not know that what the “Glee” kids do could involve big fines and serious legal problems in the real world.

I Know: Rob and Laura Petrie didn’t pay royalties on the impromptu songs they would perform in episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” either. But that was long before personal computers, the internet, file-sharing, and on-line piracy. This is now a legal and ethical issue that has to be sorted out, and pretending it doesn’t exist, especially in a show whose target audience is exactly the group advocating copyright theft, is irresponsible. “Glee” needs to avoid giving the impression that it endorses or approves of copyright theft. even if the show only does it with a disclaimer in the credits warning that actual performances of the songs used in “Glee” require license payments to the rights holders.

The issue of “Glee,” and its use of copyrighted songs is explored here, in an article by Christina Mulligan. Her point is a different one: she advocates a change in the laws that would permit what the “Glee” kids do. My point is that current laws do not, and the show has an obligation to make that clear.

[Thanks to Legal Blog Watch for the story.]

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