The Electric Commentary

Friday, November 11, 2005

Beavis, Butthead, and Intellectual Property

Recently, MTV and Mike Judge released a "Best of Beavis and Butthead" DVD collection. That's right, you can now own hours and hours of cartoon morons laughing at nothing, making fun of each other, and kicking each other in the jimmy. Unfortunately, you will not see the trademark funniest bits of each show because the music videos are all but gone. This is a travesty.

When MTV first produced B&B, the show was broken up by segments where the two characters would "critique" music videos. These segments served an important purpose. First of all, watching the antics of Beavis and Butthead continuously for long periods of time gets old very fast. Most of their comedy is physical in nature, and the shock value wears off if you are repeatedly hit over the head with it. Beavis and Butthead are also fundamentally annoying. This is OK in small doses, but after a while, your nerves will be shot. This feeling is similar to what I experience when I watch "The Office."

The videos were a nice low-tension break from the rest of the show, and they also contained some of Mike Judge's best writing. When the boys flip on Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, Butthead remarks:

I think she's married to that old dude who used to be in the Beatles.


She is (or was, I don't keep track of things like this), married to Paul Simon. While Butthead's remark is stupid, it's just close enough to correct to reveal the cleverness that went in to writing such a joke. Of course, they also think that AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is constipated, which may very well be true.

The new DVD set contains 40 episodes, but where it should contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 videos, it contains only the following:

Matthew Sweet: Superdeformed,
Pantera: This Love,
Moist: Push,
Deus: Suds & Soda,
Grim Reaper: Fear No Evil,
Monster Magnet: Negasonic Teenage Warhead,
Korn: Blind,
Catherine Wheel: Waydown,
Beastie Boys: Pass the Mic,
Wilco: Box Full of Letters,
Hum: Stars

This is most unfortunate. MTV secured the rights to use certain videos for broadcast on Beavis and Butthead, but apparently they never acquired the rights to resell those videos in VHS or DVD format. As a result, MTV's only recourse, if they wanted to include the videos, would have been to individually bargain with the artists and their labels to acquire new rights. This would have been very costly, and, while it would have undoubtedly made the set better, it probably wouldn't have sold enough to justify the extra costs, especially given the nature of the show, which featured 4-5 videos per half hour. That is a lot of overhead for what is supposed to be a low budget production.

I don't know if there's a good solution to this problem. I'm all for artists getting paid for their work, but I hate it when consumers are denied a valuable product due to IP squabbles. One of my favorite old MTV shows (which only I and 5 other people liked), Sifl & Olly, is experiencing a similar problems.

(Sidenote: The writer of The Sifl & Olly Show, and the voice of Olly, is Liam Lynch, who is also the director or Sarah Silverman's new movie. You can hear him sing here.)

One thing I do know is that licensing fees can be overly restrictive, and sometimes preclude bargaining where bargaining would otherwise occur. White Zombie (and now Rob Zombie all by his lonesome) owes everything to his band's appearance on Beavis and Butthead, yet WZ is noticeably absent from the this collection. The same can be said of Daisy Chainsaw, The Shamen (at least in the US), and Ween's, Push the Little Daisies." I find it strange that all of these videos are absent, as, in my personal opinion, these bands would be out of line to charge very much if they had an option. Moreover, only good could come to some of these bands from having some new exposure.

The bottom line is that we'll probably never have a complete set of Beavis and Butthead cartoons, even though everyone involved would benefit if it ever was released. When everyone would benefit from something but it still doesn't happen it's time to rethink whatever policy is blocking the transaction.

(Huh huh. He said "action.")

4 Comments:

  • I heard that WKRP is having the same problem being released on DVD.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 1:11 PM  

  • But, hey, yay for Matthew Sweet.

    By Blogger PRB, at 7:23 PM  

  • I hear that a lot of studios are having to compose or license other music to put in place of the original music when they release the DVD sets. Honestly, this inconvenience couldn't happen to a better group of people (unless it happened to the record industry itself). Unfortunately, it is the consumer that pays.

    The IP racket is out of control. Every day I read something that makes me want to drop everything and go to law school to help fight this BS. Today's goodie was Sony putting rootkits on people's computers that made them vulnerable to bot hacks.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 7:27 PM  

  • I should have posted on that Sony thing. Thank's Rashid. I think they're going to get sued for that. There's precedent in this circuit (the 7th) that placing spyware on a computer constitutes a "Trespass to Chatels" and is actionable. This is clearly actionable, and if there's one thing we lawyers like, it's class action lawsuits against huge multi-national corporations.

    Hi Prof. B. Good to see you hangin around the blogoshpere. You can always count on Matthew Sweet to do the right thing. Always. Wilco too.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:41 AM  

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