When fans of the TV show “Dawson’s Creek” watch it on Netflix, it will sound very different. This is because the theme song (Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait”) has been replaced by Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad” due to lack of streaming and DVD rights to the Paula Cole song. Dawson’s Creek has plenty of company in this area. Before the rise of streaming services, TV shows could save money by paying for a limited-time license for music rights, to cover the expected life of the show. The cost would be a fraction of the cost of perpetual rights, which could be a game-changer for a small cable TV show with a shoestring budget. The problem, of course, is that the life of a TV show has changed dramatically. Who would have expected that, over 60 years after Star Trek aired, the grandchildren of the original viewers could watch all of the show’s episodes on a streaming service? Today’s TV producers have – unsurprisingly – changed their approach to music licensing, by requiring perpetual licenses whenever possible.
Business professionals and creators can take a valuable lesson from this: expect the unexpected, and try to protect your future interests. License agreements should take into consideration the expected value of the work being licensed, and account for a wide variety of future uses. Then again, predicting the future is a precarious business. In the 1960s through ‘80s, the BBC show “Doctor Who” was a niche program; mildly popular, but nowhere near as popular as it is today. At some point the BBC needed more storage space, and destroyed the original copies of several years of Doctor Who episodes. Decades later, when the BBC would surely love to have those episodes available on its paid streaming service, the content is permanently gone. By one estimate, “60 to 70 percent of all BBC programming produced between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s was deleted.”
If you have content, don’t discount its potential future value. Call us for advice – we’ll be glad to help.
— Joshua D. Waterston, Esq.