OK Go: Apple Ripped Off Our Video

OK Go: Apple Ripped Off Our Video
Apple's "Perspective" video has a lot in common with the one for OK Go's The Writing's on the Wall, and the band says it is exploring legal options (Video still from OK Go's The Writing's on the Wall music videoThe Writing's on the Wall)
Video still from OK Go's The Writing's on the Wall music videoThe Writing's on the Wall

Apple kicked off its product event on Tuesday with a video called “Perspective,” which it framed as a tribute to people “who have always seen things differently.” The video consists of a long shot in which the camera tracks around a white room; when the camera reaches a certain perspective, random shapes morph into inspirational words.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/TJ1SDXbij8Y

Apple’s ways of seeing things isn’t different enough, says Andy Gershon, manager of the band OK Go. (He is also a contributor to Bloomberg TV.) The band used the same visual trick in the video for its song, The Writing’s on the Wall.
 
http://www.youtube.com/embed/m86ae_e_ptU
 
OK Go’s video has been viewed over 10 million times since it was posted to YouTube in June. It also won this year’s Video Music Award for best visual effects. It’s entirely plausible that someone would be inspired to make a similar video. But that’s not what happened, Gershon says. He says the band met with Apple in April to pitch that visual concept as a potential video collaboration. Apple declined, so the band made its own video. Apple then hired 1stAveMachine, the production company behind OK Go’s video, to make a video for its iPhone launch event; it also used the same director. Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. “The videos speak for themselves, and you can draw your own conclusions,” says Gershon.

This is familiar ground for Apple. The renowned iPod ads from 2005 featuring dancing silhouettes caused controversy because they resembled a commercial for Lugz boots. A year later, an Apple television spot bore a striking resemblance to a video made by the band, the Postal Service. In that case, Apple hired the director of the Postal Service’s video to make its commercial, according to a report from MTV at the time. Photographer Louis Psihoyos sued Apple in 2007, saying he had been negotiating with the company over the use of his photograph depicting a wall of televisions in an Apple TV ad. Apple declined to purchase rights to the image, then used it anyway, according to the complaint. (Psihoyos dropped the suit.) An additional Apple commercial from that period seems like a tribute to a film by experimental filmmaker Christian Marclay, who said he chose not to give Apple permission to use his film when the company approached him.

Here is Marclay’s original film: http://www.youtube.com/embed/nOvKx3n5ikk

And the iPhone commercial: http://www.youtube.com/embed/mmiWTKZzBLY

Such actions sting doubly, given the boost that Apple provides artists it officially works with. On Tuesday, Tim Cook announced that the company is giving U2′s new album to everyone with an iTunes account. He sealed the deal with an awkward finger-tap with Bono—and, according to the Wall Street Journal, a $100 million advertising campaign.

Gershon says OK Go is exploring its legal options, but it may not have many. Taking someone’s idea and adapting it for your own purposes in this manner is generally not a violation of copyright law, says Mark Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School. There is some precedent in state courts for so-called idea submission cases, whereby someone who has pitched an idea in private has sought relief when the idea is used without their involvement. But Lemley says it’s not clear whether OK Go would prevail in this instance, especially in the absence of a non-disclosure agreement between the two sides. “You could imagine circumstances where there’s a legal claim here, although I think it’s unlikely to succeed,” he says. “That said, from a PR perspective, I’d say it wasn’t a smart move by Apple.”

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