requiemforromance requiemforromance
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Here’s What Animator Jonathan Ng Did When His Film Was Lifted By EDM Artist Will Sparks

On September 13, Montreal, Canada-based filmmaker and animator Jonathan Ng received an email from a friend, asking, “Did you authorize this?”

What followed was a link to a Youtube video for the song “Take Me,” by DJ and EDM artist Will Sparks. The video consisted almost entirely of Ng’s animated short, Requiem for Romance (watch below), which the popular Australian musician had set to his own music.

The musician’s creative team lifted Ng’s film – a phone call break-up inventively re-imagined as a couple sparring across a classical Chinese landscape – and with some editing, reconfigured the film to fit Sparks’ song. Ng tells Cartoon Brew that no one from the label contacted him prior to posting the video, nor was any permission received.

In a now-deleted tweet, a Twitter user named Three Heads claimed he designed the video with both Sparks and the Hilversum, Netherlands-based record label Spinnin’ Records:

requiem_sparks_tweet

Ng, who spent two years producing Requiem, initially felt confused by the wholesale theft of a film that he spent so long making, including raising financing; hiring and supervising assistant animators, compositors, and musicians; directing the voice actors; and of course animating the film. His film enjoyed a healthy festival run, screening at Anima Mundi, Stuttgart, and Melbourne In’t Film Festival among others, in addition to being shortlisted for an Oscar in 2013. Online it has earned over 350,000 views to date on Vimeo.

The filmmaker conferred with friends, many of whom were themselves independent artists, to gather their thoughts on the situation. His friends reacted strongly, some even going onto Twitter to complain about the situation, including Patrick Doyon, the Oscar-nominated director of the NFB short Sunday:

The next day, September 14, Ng was contacted by Matthew Harrison of Spinnin’ Records, the label behind the video. Harrison offered a mea culpa, though he seemed to believe the error was in not crediting Ng, and instead crediting the VJ Three Heads who had been hired to produce and edit the video. In an attempt to make amends, Harrison offered Ng a percentage of ad revenue for the video, which had surpassed a million views on Youtube.

Ng rejected the revenue sharing offer. For Ng, Sparks’ music and his film were not a creative fit. His film already had a score, by Vid Cousins, based around a theme by Kid Koala. That commissioned music was the audio that Ng felt should accompany his film.

Ng also filed a takedown notice with Youtube, and by September 19, the Google-owned video hosting site removed Sparks’ video from its site.

Despite being caught, Sparks and his record label haven’t backed down from their unauthorized use of Ng’s artwork. The label still uses Requiem for Romance artwork on its website, and Sparks has kept the video on his Facebook page.

The Spinnin' Records website still uses Ng's work to promote Sparks' music.
The Spinnin’ Records website still uses Ng’s work to promote Sparks’ music.

The incident is further evidence of an ongoing problem that continues to worsen over time for independent filmmakers: policing the unauthorized use of their work on the internet. As Ng tells Cartoon Brew, many websites offer ways for creators to flag unauthorized use of their work, but only the copyright owner can file a claim. No one can do it on the artist’s behalf. This creates a burden on indie artists, who already spend an inordinate amount of their time dealing with business matters rather than focusing on creative work.

Ng noted that the irony is that, frequently, artists are only too happy to have their work seen by larger audiences. All they need is someone to ask permission and offer a deal. For example, Ng himself had previously licensed a film to a British music group. As he explained, the band asked permission, Ng suggested licensing the film, and a deal was made.

Unfortunately, too often, other artists, especially musicians looking for visuals to accompany their music, simply steal the work of independent filmmakers, knowing that indie artists usually lack the resources to defend their work from misappropriation.

The strategy hasn’t worked out so far for Sparks. Ng is currently speaking with an entertainment attorney about the matter and exploring his legal options. He will consider any additional response he receives from Sparks and his representatives before deciding what further action to take.

Cartoon Brew made multiple requests for comment to Spinnin’ Records, but did not receive a response from the label.

UPDATE: A Spinnin’ Records spokesperson, who declined to be identified, sent Cartoon Brew the following statement:

We contacted Jonathan asking multiple times after seeing remarks when the video originally went live and after about licensing and even splitting ad revenue with Jonathan. We are still open to this idea, as at this point our YouTube page has resulted in a loss in sales, marketing funds, and the ability to promote artist such as Will Sparks. We have also reached out to Jonathan to publish a redo or republish this version of “Take Me” on our page with the correct documentation including his credentials, as well as everyone else who worked on the project. At this point we have still yet to hear back from him. At this point we have begun reaching out to other animators, as well as Jonathan to hire them to make a new video and give credit where credit is due.

As far as your current article goes I would ask kindly to remove it or repost it on your page as it makes Will Sparks look bad when he is not involved in the process at all. This burden falls on our team at Spinnin’ for letting the ball drop and not contact Jonathan sooner before the video went live. We are currently backing down using Jonathan’s art, video and other medias from our socials and our website and are currently awaiting a new animator to tackle the process of creating new art.

We ask you to be patient with us as we are still waiting for answers on our side as well.

  • Tess Martin

    I love it how in their email the record label acts like the victim saying their theft of another artist’s work has resulted in loss of sales and ‘their ability to promote artists like Will Sparks’ – I guess they only care about musical artists, not animation artists?

  • Marie

    This is admittedly not the most insightful response but…what a bunch of cheap, tone-deaf, self-absorbed jerks.

    If the situation were reversed, they’d be screaming about how their music was stolen, they’d sue everyone they could and they’d be all over social media talking about it.

    It’s disappointing that, as an artist, this musician doesn’t respect his fellow artists’ work.

    • Marc Hendry

      if it was an animator stealing music, the videos would be automatically removed/demonetised!

  • Josh Evans

    Scummy to the bone. I have no respect for the musician OR the label, despite what their rep may say. We work SO HARD on our personal films that to have them stolen outright is heartbreaking. Add to that, they still haven’t made things right. This is all too common and it needs to stop!

  • Jack Rabbit

    Not good to cause such a conflict.

  • aaronfg

    That spokesperson’s reply is insane. “We offered to split revenue with him” is somehow justification for stealing the work to begin with?

    Hope they get sued and lose a ton of money. They’re trash.

    • Scott Smith

      My favorite part was:

      “As far as your current article goes I would ask kindly to remove it… as it makes Will Sparks look bad.”

      • geforce

        rite?

        “We already made Will Sparks look bad by slapping his name all over a stolen video, but your little article over there just informing the people of what we did.. nah. That needs to go.”

    • mashed potato

      That’s a hush money offer if I ever saw one.

      Do I smell desperation in the way Spinnin keeps gravitating back to wanting to collaborate with Jonathan Ng? It’s as if they needed Requiem’s visuals for ‘take me’ to succeed.

      • marcoselmalo

        The term isn’t “hush money”, it’s called a settlement offer. This one is particularly weak and it’s not surprising that Ng rejected it. A settlement between parties is one possible outcome of a case like this. Spinning better come back with something much better if they have any hope of staying in business as it looks like Ng is holding all the cards. Every minute they continue to use his material makes it worse for them, too.

        There’s also the matter of the VJ that stole the work. Depending on how he structured his business, he might be personally liable to claims from not just Ng, but to the record company for fraudulent use of copyrighted material. And then there is Sparks himself.

        To be fair, we don’t know all the facts about who did what. We just know the result.

        [Hush money is, for example, what you would pay to a witness to keep their mouth shut as part of a coverup. The thing you are trying to hide might not be criminal. It might merely be something embarrassing. HTH]

    • SpinninSux

      This isn’t the first time these clowns have gotten sued for this kind of crap either

      http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/dance/7972835/martin-garrix-lawsuit-win-spinnin-records

      tl;dr Spinnin Records signed Martin Garrix to their label under the fraudulent claim to him and his father, who were already engaged with Spinnin on some business level regard Garrix “ghost producing” tracks for other artists (making tracks for all the other talentless hacks at Spinnin who slap their name on them) that signing to their management ALSO OWNED BY SPINNIN RECORDS was the “only way” they could’ve gotten anywhere in this business, or something like that.

      Well, Garrix sued and subsequently won song rights and a bunch of other stuff back from Spinnin because they obviously because misrepresent to him the concrete details behind the contract signed, such as the obvious conflict of interest regarding signing to a management firm basically, but not legally, owned by your record label.

  • Doconnor

    “only the copyright owner can file a claim. No one can do it on the artist’s behalf.”

    The copyright owner has discretion over what is or is not a copyright violation, which is why only the copyright owner can file a claim.

    • Kapuchu

      That is understandable, but when someone properly provides credit where credit is due, they usually have been given permission. But if said credit isn’t there, then it should be possible for a third party to report this kind of thing.

      Both sides have their ups and downs, but I believe it’s better to err on the side of the (possibly) violated artist. Said Artist may get ten emails a day about confirmation on violations of their IP, that actually had permission, but might also catch a fifty actual violations of it. I think it’s a worthy trade.

  • GuyO

    Terrible.
    You folks should have a look at this:
    http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/46351/-neal-loses-ozzy

  • thefoxandking

    ‘Please feel sorry for us for stealing his work’. These types of disgusting attitudes are all too common nowadays.

  • SpinninSux

    Not surprised in the least that it was Spinnin Records behind this.

    Those guys have always gotten their way to the top with both incredibly shady business practices and aggressively pushing crap music for the lowest common denominator.

    Man I hope Ng and his team sue the crap out of Spinnin. Serves them right for turning dance music into a cultural wasteland from 2012 to….. I dunno 14ish. Spinnin Records and Big Room House on the whole are the god damn toy marketing focused cheap Filmation bullshit of EDM, and I’m not gonna lie when I say I take a perverse amount of glee in seeing those guys get sued to hell and back.

    • Mister_Munchie

      Yeah they were just “sampling” the video! REMIX!

  • Ceebs

    “I’ve always bucked the notion that house and techno music is vacuous, but EDM most certainly is.” -Terry Mullan

  • I encourage others to share this and get the word out. That this is not acceptable.

  • Abdelrahman Magdy Said

    Funny that they say ‘We are currently backing down using Jonathan’s art, video and other medias from our socials and our website and are currently awaiting a new animator to tackle the process of creating new art.’…

    …yet they are still using Jonathan’s art here:
    https://www.spinninrecords.com/releases/take-me/

    Guess they are waiting for the new art to arrive before taking down the one they stole.

  • Pan Rysownik

    I’m sorry for harsh words, but what the fuck? How the hell can they seriously write like this was just a small mistake, taking someone’s entire video? They didn’t even say sorry, like copyright was something that happens only to other people? What bastards steal someone’s work, and then treat it like a small misstep, without the artist himself going out of his way to say how shitty the company that stole this video was, break ties with them and hire a whole new marketing team in the future to manage his music and videos for it. I mean, as an artist, I would NEVER keep working with a company that steals animations to promote my stuff – the article doesn’t make the artist look bad. The company he hired did that too well.

  • First off, are they a proper spokesperson if they decline to be identified? Second, how is this Ng’s fault? I mean, they state their response in such as way that it’s almost his fault for not replying to their desperate messages to him AFTER they released their video which blatantly shows their theft of Ng’s intellectual property. Ng doesn’t owe Spinn’ Records or Will Sparks anything but the contact info of his lawyer.

  • SimonFraser4

    This is emblematic of the chaos that has pervaded the music industry since Napster hobbled their revenue model. Nobody knows what they’re doing. And they try to cover their ass after they’ve already fallen on it. Desperation makes people stupid.

  • Justin Greene

    “We kindly ask you to remove the article cause it makes us look bad.” LOL

  • But (dot, dot, dot)

    So… break in to someone’s home, steal their stuff, sell it to a pawn shop, then offer to split the revenue. What’s not fair about that? To paraphrase a lunatic, “You didn’t create that!”

    It’s funny how, all the sudden, property rights are important to, “artists.” It’s okay when taxes confiscate my earnings, to be redistributed to people who don’t earn anything. It’s okay, even after taxes are taken, for society to insist that I, “give something back,” to the community, too! It’s okay for an artist to make a statue protesting capitalism and have it placed on Wall Street, as a big middle finger to the economic system that took the world from traveling on horses to flying to the moon and beyond the solar system. It’s okay for an artist to write songs protesting my right to own property, insisting instead that the communist ideal is better with, “this land is your land, this land is my land…” It’s okay when people protest my right to defend my life and my speech and demand that I lose those rights because they are, “triggered,” and need a, “safe space,” that – ultimately – I must pay for.

    But… steal a cartoon… well, that’s worth a Twitter storm.

    • df

      Yes, it is a big deal that a cartoon that someone worked on for months, hell maybe years,
      was used to make a profit with the creators consent. It’s wrong to make bank off of someone
      else’s hard work without their permission. Also, take your Alt right rants to Youtube or 4chan;
      no one’s trying to take away your right to free speech and you pay taxes for roads and
      law enforcement, you know, things YOU will more than likely need to use in the future.

  • PartTimer

    Wow- How about issuing a bill to the company for the property and tack on some fees ? The use and lack of a contract is already well-documented for a Judge after the fact.

  • marcoselmalo

    I don’t think that was an oily lawyer response. Sounds more like a larcenous owner response (refusing to reveal his identity) before he’s had a chance to bring in an attorney. In a case like this, the lawyer would not be trying to tell his client’s side of the story to the public. I don’t think this is even a professional PR person. It screams small time operator doing his own PR. (I think a pro would be more subtle and suggest something like “we are engaged in an ongoing conversation with the artist and hope to reach an agreement beneficial to all parties”. Not go into what they offered Ng vis a vis revenue sharing, etc.)

  • Robert Holmén

    Remember the old bureaucrats’ joke? “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.”

    They think that’s a real thing.

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the studio that presented this as their original work explains what happened.