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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Winter Olympics produces more than just medals

U.S. Figure Skating and figure skating pair Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier received a surprise following their performance at last month’s Winter Olympics in China and it wasn’t the good kind of surprise. They were sued for their performance.

More specifically, music group Heavy Young Heathens filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the skaters, the U.S. figure skating organization, and NBC, the television network that broad cast their performance, alleging that the copyright for the group’s performance of the song "House of the Rising Sun" was violated when the pair used it for their short program.

The music group is comprised of brothers Robert and Aron Marderosian are known for the use of their unique compositions in television shows, movies, trailers, advertisements and video games, including "Deadpool" and "The Simpsons." But the group may be best known for their unusual composition of the song "House of the Rising Sun" which was first used in the film "The Magnificent Seven" and later in Ford auto commercials. In a way, it has become their signature song.

Knierim and Frazier won a silver medal for their performance, but they apparently forgot to obtain the rights to use the song during the competition. Likewise, NBC made the same mistake in failing to confirm that the song had been “cleared.” Thus, the network compounded the problem by broadcasting its unauthorized use to tens of millions of viewers.

In the complaint filed in the lawsuit, the Marderosians allege that they were never contacted by Knierim or Frazier, Team USA or U.S. Figure Skating about licensing the track for their performance and go on to allege that NBC, USA Network and Peacock never inquired either.

"These violations cause great harm to the value of (the Marderosians) command for such a well known piece of their recording catalog, and insults the integrity of their professional reputation. While Knierim/Frazier, USFS, NBC, USA, PEACOCK are all profiting from the revenue the 2022 Winter Olympics generate, (the Marderosians) have been and continue to be deprived of what their creation 'House of the Rising Sun' earns them per license," the lawsuit reads.

Knierim and Frazier do not deny using the song, but they have denied any intentional wrongdoing: "We've literally been living in a shell and keeping all noise away. Because we know that we can address it now, when we're done." And now that the Olympics are over, it appears that the time has come to do so.

WHY IT MATTERS. Entities like NBC and the U.S. Figure Skating association have teams of lawyers on retainer whose primary job is to make certain that blunders like this never occur. Given that this isn't the first time the group has filed a lawsuit over licensing (In 2017, they sued Warner Bros. over the use of the theme song for FOX's "Lucifer.") one might think there should be plenty of blame to go around. Nevertheless, it does raise the important reminder that any time someone uses someone else’s music or musical performance and does so without first obtaining the right to do so they are running the risk of a similar lawsuit.

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