January 22, 2006

Apple-Intel vs. The Postal Service

This is kind of an intresting IP case.
the recent Apple Intel tv ad is apparently an almost shot-for-shot remake (or it uses outtakes from) the video for the Postal Service (the band not the USPS) song "Such Great Heights". here's a nice a-b comparison video someone put together:

now, some people blow it off when they find out it's by the same ad agency and director. but
here's a note from ben gibbard of the Postal Service on their site postalservicemusic.net:

A Note from Ben

It has recently come to our attention that Apple Computers' new television commercial for the Intel chip features a shot-for-shot recreation of our video for 'Such Great Heights' made by the same filmmakers responsible for the original. We did not approve this commercialization and are extremely disappointed with both parties that this was executed without our consultation or consent. -Ben Gibbard, The Postal Service

it would be interesting to know what the legality of this is. if the band or their label owns the copyright on the video, then there's a legal problem. if it's the ad agency or the filmmaker, then there's probably no infringement. But either way it's ethically suspect, imho...

Interestingly enough, Apple has rencently placed the Postal Service video on the front page of the Apple iTunes Music Store. Coincidence?

(And may I add that reading song reviews on the music store is a really irritating experience. If I see one more case of someone trying to dicate what "emo" means I'm going to scream.)

Posted by steev at January 22, 2006 05:31 PM

if the sequence of events were reversed, and the postal service's video had copped from the apple commercial, would you still find that ethically suspect?

it's not a loaded question, i'm just trying to grok your ethical criteria. cheers.

Posted by: niall at January 22, 2006 05:58 PM

Yes. The crux of the ethical problem is that the first client was not asked or even notified about the second use. Regardless of who it is, this ethical obligation exists for the second client and for the director and ad agency.

But a second consideration that would mitigate the problematic nature of the scenario you describe is not neccesarily one of ethics but at least to do with some sort of informal sense of justice: Apple is a much more powerful entity than the band or even its label, Sub Pop, and hence my standard rule of appropriation would apply - that it's more okay for the less powerful to rip off the more powerful than the other way around. In the same way, for example, if I were to shop lift, I would shoplift at Wal-Mart rather than at my local corner store.

Posted by: Steev at January 22, 2006 06:35 PM

This entire issue is one worth pondering. Although, without sounding like a Mac fanboy, I find it odd how everyone has suddenly jumped onto Apple..

Okay, so the director re-used the same ideas. What if Apple just didn't know? Shouldn't it be TBWA\Chiat\Day (Apple's ad agency) who is held responsible?

If you ask me, I think Apple tried to make things a little better by posting that music video to iTunes. It seems the band is either being greedy; for money, attention or both. If you've got a problem, file a lawsuit. Otherwise, shut up..

Posted by: Asif Alibhai at January 22, 2006 08:50 PM

I think the really important question here is, and forgive my ignorance The Postal Service, which one was shot first? Is it possible the Apple ad was shot before TPS video and the director reused cuts for that video, rather than what seems be alledged here?

Either way, I think this is a director who just killed their career.

Posted by: ice weasel at January 22, 2006 09:17 PM


"Yes. The crux of the ethical problem is that the first client was not asked or even notified about the second use."

this presupposes the postal service's authorship/ownership of the video content {or even the associations that arise from use of similar content}. have they claimed that ownership? can they claim ownership of that parenthetical commodity {i guess that if they don't "own" the video, then their beef is with the association implied by such obvious, exploitative intertextuality}?

mind you, i'm cynically certain that, if the sequence of events were reversed, apple would waste no time in sending a spurious cease and desist order to sub pop, the postal service and other related parties.

Posted by: niall at January 23, 2006 09:31 PM

I don't think I presuposed anything. There are legal obligations and then there are ethical obligations. Even if the PS or subpop don't hold the copyright, there's still an ethical/moral issue here.

It would be interesting to know, though. Many times this kind of work would be contractually "work for hire," meaning the copyright is assigned to the party that paid for work. But it's certainly possible the director owns it, or retained the right to re-use outtakes, or a number of other possiblities.

But again, ethically, it doesn't matter. The directors are artists who should have had more integrity than what they've displayed.

Posted by: Steev at January 23, 2006 09:46 PM


tabling the question of artistic ethics for the moment, what ethical obligation did the director have? why, specifically, did the director have to notify or ask permission of the first client?

Posted by: niall at January 23, 2006 10:01 PM

sorry, more specifically, i mean "what ethical obligation did the director have to the first client?" - the director's ethical obligation to hisor her debatable role as an artist seems a different can of worms {but if it's not, we can work it out}.

Posted by: niall at January 23, 2006 10:08 PM

Well, I don't know if they're separate. Do artists need to follow a different code of ethics than "regular people"? I don't think so.

But the deal is, to me, it's just a matter of good manners, of just doing the right thing. It's like cheating on your girlfriend, or a host other common sense things you just don't do if you're a nice person. If you think of the world as a dog-eat-dog, stab-each-other-in-the-back kind of place, then, sure, go for it fuck everybody. Just remind me never to collaborate with you in any way.

But I'm tired of this, there's more important things to talk about. In the end this is good for the band cuz they get more exposure, and it's good for Apple cuz they get associated with a hip band. Probably the only one who loses is the director, since, as ice weasel says above, he's probably ruined his career, at least as far as making music videos goes.

Posted by: Steev at January 24, 2006 12:32 AM

i never asserted that artists need to follow a different code of ethics from that of regular people; i've only asked you to give some scope to yours.

i suppose there are more important things to talk about than ethics and art, though, yes. cheers for your time.

Posted by: niall at January 24, 2006 01:26 AM