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Student Takes on Major League Baseball over Bon Jovi jingle

(Boston, Revised 11/30/10) New England Law | Boston: Jonathan Yasuda ’11 argued that a recent MLB-TBS video shared striking similarities with the copyrighted work of local musician Bart Steele.  While the law student’s effort has not yet succeeded in court, the case did establish legal precedent, according to Yasuda, in regard to the widespread advertising practice of “temp tracking.”

Jonathan Yasuda ’09
Jonathan Yasuda ’09

It’s a long way from playing Mozart and Beethoven to analyzing a bar song about a guy who loves the Red Sox. For Yasuda, a professional, prize-winning pianist, it’s even farther to the mainstream metal of Bon Jovi—but the law can take you to strange places.

In summer 2008 Yasuda interned with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA) of Massachusetts, and became involved the case of Bart Steele, a struggling musician and die-hard Red Sox fan.  Steel presented the VLA with two musical recordings: his own song, “Man, I Really Love This Team” and Jon Bon Jovi’s “I Love This Town,” a 2007 Major League Baseball (MLB) Championship Series promotional music video/jingle produced by MLB and TBS.

According to a recent article in Boston Magazine, the little-known musician, Steele, contended that MLB and TBS used his song as the basis for their jingle and video. The article said that Steele copyrighted the song in 2006, before the TBS video began airing, and passed out a thousand singles of the tune during the 2004 Red Sox-Yankees Championship Series.

“In 2004, he gave the song to anyone wearing a suit as they headed in or out of the Red Sox offices, and he also sent the CD to Red Sox management,” said Yasuda, and Steele noted that he sent the song, with lyric sheets, to Major League Baseball in New York several times.

Yasuda argued that the MLB-TBS video shares striking similarities with Steele’s music and lyrics that are far from coincidental. Steele notes, “In addition to other blatant musical and lyrical similarities, at the exact moment I sing ‘Yawkey Way’ in my song, the camera [in the MLB/TBS video] pans up to a Yawkey Way street sign.” (4 Yawkey Way is Fenway Park’s address.)

A federal judge, however, did not agree, holding in summary judgment that Steele’s song was not substantially similar to Bon Jovi’s song.  Yasuda said that Steele will be making an appeal.

Yasuda said that the Steele case make precedent because of the discussion of in the judge’s decision of “temp tracking,” in which a song is used as a template to create an audiovisual work which, in turn, is used to create a final soundtrack. 

 Jon Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi (Getty Images)

Yasuda commented, “Temp-tracking is widespread.  Producers from LA to New York often step into these legally murky waters.  Cases usually settle or fizzle before the court renders a decision.  Insurance companies, however, are beginning to stipulate in their agreements with record labels that they will not insure companies that temp-track other musicians' works.”

The second-year law student is a Steering Committee member of the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition, and plans to meet with politicians, state legislators, and artists of all disciplines in the coming months to address the issue of temp-tracking.  He has been invited to speak at the Artists Entrepreneurship Conference, to be held at the Boston Public Library in November.  He said, “My goal is to eventually help draft legislation which will afford greater copyright infringement protection to musicians.”

Yasuda hopes eventually to become a leader in the enactment of laws on copyright infringement. “When you’re working as an artist, your work is close to your soul,” he said. He credits his New England Law professors with helping him recognize that he could find substantive ways to combine his love of music and his legal training.



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