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NBC Erases SNL Sketch From Digital Archive For Fear of Copyright Lawsuit 128

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the nbc-plans-to-sue-nbc dept.
M.Nunez writes with a tale of copyright woes. From the article: "The digital 'Saturday Night Live' archive does not feature a recent Bruno Mars sketch because it includes impersonations of pop singers and their chart-topping hits. Bruno Mars sings several songs that are not owned by NBC, so it can be presumed that the company refrained from uploading the sketch into its digital archive to avoid any legal issues. Convoluted music licensing laws have essentially erased the Bruno Mars sketch from the digital archives of SNL. In the short comedy sketch, Bruno Mars impersonates vocal performances by Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Louis Armstrong, and Michael Jackson. The sketch cannot be found on NBC.com or Hulu, as a short clip or in either full editions of the episode."
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NBC Erases SNL Sketch From Digital Archive For Fear of Copyright Lawsuit

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  • This is not new (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @11:53AM (#41753833)

    SNL regularly doesn't post sketches that involve music in some way. Even if they can defend themselves with fair use, a lawyer probably decided it's simply not worth the hassle for the ad revenue it generates.

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @11:54AM (#41753873) Journal

      All it needed was more cowbell!

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by NJRoadfan (1254248)
      Is it a parody or a cover? Parodies are covered by fair use, covers are not.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Parody. In the sketch, a bunch of songs are sung with the wrong words, but the station manager says it's ok because nobody knows those words anyway.
        • How would this be applied to Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat Sings The Hits sketch? I mean, he kinda gets the words right, except in a heavily exaggerated accent.

          So now copyright is the enemy of humor as well. There's not a lot to recommend IP protection any more.

          • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @01:20PM (#41754935) Homepage Journal

            How would this be applied to Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat Sings The Hits sketch? I mean, he kinda gets the words right, except in a heavily exaggerated accent.

            It is perfectly Otay!!

          • Re:This is not new (Score:4, Informative)

            by Genda (560240) <(mariet) (at) (got.net)> on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @02:21PM (#41755783) Journal

            No Lawyers are the enemy of humor. Corporations out to dominate the world and the people in it are the enemy of comedy. Fact is, these people are a threat to human expression, thought, and artistic self expression everywhere. We need to yank these clowns up short so hard their grandkids will feel the choke. Its time to dispense with these structures because their misuse and abuse by greedy scum sucking pigs has become a detriment to society at large. Or at least a MAJOR overhaul is called for. For certain we need to make nuisance suits expensive to those suing so they think twice.

          • by AdamWill (604569)

            I don't know why anyone thinks this is news. Music rights have affected TV archive releases for years, because the industry agreements let TV shows do more on initial transmission than on re-broadcast (same way it's fine to cover someone else's songs live, but you'd have to pay to release a recording of the live show with the covers included). Everyone involved knows the rules and had a stake in negotiating them. I don't think anyone in TV is really pushing for any changes.

            • by swalve (1980968)
              It's performance rights versus mechanical rights. If you perform a song, you have to pay the songwriter some statutory fee. Meaning: you don't need permission to perform a song that is published through ASCAP. You just pay the appropriate fee. However, if you record and publish your performance (which online streaming is), you have to pay a different fee. I'm not sure if this is statutory or whether you have to obtain permission. If you use someone else's recording, I believe you have to obtain permis
          • by kenj0418 (230916)

            I'd like to see that in court. "Your honor, 'Unce, tice, fee tynes a maybe' is clearly a derivitive work and violates my clients copyright"

          • by Creepy (93888)

            This issue is far more complicated than that. NBC has to pay the publisher tax to ASCAP and BMI. This is typically paid for by venue and for broadcast yearly. In addition, the bands playing need a reciprocal license in their contract to play the songs, as the recording studio almost always owns the music itself that only covers live performances. Rebroadcasting the music requires acquiring a separate license from the studio. Rebroadcasting any lyrically sung songs requires acquiring a separate license from

        • by crossmr (957846)

          Parody isn't making a joke. Parody is using the original work to make commentary on the work itself. He only says that about 1 song, the first song. He makes no other comments about the rest of the songs, other than to say he sounds just like them.

      • by sapgau (413511)

        It was definitely a parody as he was exaggerating his voice and jaw movements when reaching high notes.
        It did prove what a great voice he has... other than that is your typical long repetitive SNL sketch.

    • So THAT's the reason! I've been looking at SNL's archive on Netflix and sat there perplexed about certain classic sketches not being included - one of my favorite Christopher Walken sketches is "Stalk Talk" - but for some reason it wasn't on the Best of Walken DVD and stricken from Netflix. It starts off with a portion of The Police's "Every Move You Make". Thank God I still have a crappy rip of it from one of my old VHS tapes from when it first aired. Otherwise I'd have to question whether or not it ever
      • by xjerky (128399)
        Replying to myself, but speaking of Walken, everyone knows the "cowbell" sketch, which heavily features Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper". I guess NBC felt that that skit was classic enough to keep paying the royalties on that song.
        • Well that and the fact that the band found the sketch very funny and have on a number of occasions stated their approval of it.

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        Same reason that we'll likely NEVER see the original, uncut, unedited versions of the classic TV show WKRP in Cincinnati [wikipedia.org]...

        :(

        "When everyone is out to get you....

        ...paranoid, is just.......good thinking!!"

        -Dr. Johnny Fever

        • They can air the original versions in TV syndication, just not in any home distributions or Internet uses. I'm hoping for it to get picked up by a no-name cable channel, and I'll capture them all myself.

          I own and have ripped the DVD set with the overdubbed music, and I'd love to replace them one-by-one with better versions.

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            They can air the original versions in TV syndication, just not in any home distributions or Internet uses. I'm hoping for it to get picked up by a no-name cable channel, and I'll capture them all myself.

            If I recall, that isn't actually true, sadly.

            I think maybe WGN, a long time ago...still had rights to show the mostly original episodes with original music (although I think they had been cut in content for time for more commercials, but not for copyright)..but I believe that too expired quite awhile back.

            • by AdamWill (604569)

              "If I recall, that isn't actually true, sadly."

              You're right. I believe it differs for initial transmission and later re-broadcast (and things may be even more liberal for initial *live* transmission, as in SNL's case). All sorts of shows have to be cut for re-broadcast for music reasons, it's nothing new, it's gone on for years. I was reading just the other day that re-runs of The Gong Show are and always have been cut for music licensing reasons. That's decades old.

            • Bah, that's too bad.

              I have two VHS tapes of episodes from the '90s, all of which have the original music, but the video quality is awful. I haven't taken the time to convert them to a better format, hoping instead to capture them digitally on a future airing, but if that will never happen then I'll have to do so.

    • Even if they can defend themselves with fair use, a lawyer probably decided it's simply not worth the hassle for the ad revenue it generates.

      Or put another way, lawyers are way too expensive.

      • Lawyers are expensive because laws are complex and plentiful. Laws are complex because most politicians are lawyers (or own law firms). It's feeding their self interests. Simplify and reduce the number of laws and you'll have cheaper lawyers.
    • On netflix, they take out the music as well. So I miss out on such notable musical acts as Lana Del Ray, Ke$ha, and One Direction.

      I don't know if it's due to copyright, but if so, thank you, copyright law. Fast-forwarding every time would get annoying.
    • SNL regularly doesn't post sketches that involve music in some way. Even if they can defend themselves with fair use, a lawyer probably decided it's simply not worth the hassle for the ad revenue it generates.

      And here I was thinking that Oceana had ALWAYS been at war with EastAsia!

    • by ljhiller (40044)
      Actually, now that ;you mention it, this makes a lot of sense. I've been looking for the Crazy Cryin' Amazacrazy sketch for years with no luck.
    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      SNL regularly doesn't post sketches that involve music in some way.

      Is the musical guest posted? I don't know.

      A similar issue I see (or rather, don't hear), is that I listen to the NBC Nightly News audio podcast, and virtually any segment that is sports or entertainment related is cut. (Not EVERY time, just the vast vast majority of the time.) So I still download the podcast, but Tivo it too and FF through it quickly to see if I missed anything. I haven't checked the video podcast version, but I have not

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Yeah IIRC it took years of complaints about the classic Belushi "Dueling Cockers" before that showed back on their "best of' sets because it had them singing and I guess its policy that if there is any music to just not mess with it. Kinda sad that copyrights have become such a fucking mess that many shows that had pop music of the time in them are getting butchered (WKRP, Daria) or just not shown at all. If I believed in an afterlife I'd hope that Jack Valenti is burning in hell right now, greedy fuck.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    His impressions were surprisingly good.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And nothing of value was lost

    • In all fairness Bruno Mars was very good.

      • by scorp1us (235526)

        Yes. I was like "Who??" Then he ended up doing a good job. I still don't know why George Takei hasn't hosted. Ever.

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        In all fairness Bruno Mars was very good.

        I agree.

        I'd never heard of the guy before, but I was a bit surprised to see how well he did on that sketch, and many others.

        I was also pleasantly surprised to hear him and his band perform...it has been a long time since I've seen a band on SNL, not lip sync, actually sing with real vocal singing (not just talking or yelling), and to see people actually playing instruments WHILE actually be entertaining dancing around, etc.

        This was the first performance in years

        • by amiga3D (567632)

          I had never heard of him before I saw his performance at the Grammies. Damn what a performance. The guy has serious stage presence and a band with great sound. The music isn't my favorite genre but there is no denying that level of talent.

      • In all fairness Bruno Mars was very good.

        So was Leonard Nimoy... In the video he did, to the Bruno Mars song...

        However, That rotten thing over there isn't any good... That's the ass that I laughed off thanks to the above link.

    • Thank you. Bruno Mars is music's answer to comedy's Dane Cook.
  • And this is the problem with virtually unlimited copyrights and DRM, it removes items of popular culture from general availability.
    Our culture has been monetized and taken from us, to be sold back to us.

    • by sarysa (1089739)
      On the contrary, I think this opens the door for more obscure/indie pop culture memes to be archived and remembered. Something has to fill the void. Let the RIAA bastards fall on their own swords. Decades ago, a couple artists already missed their chance to be on the Voyager golden record, to which I gleefully quote Nelson: HA HA!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:00PM (#41753967)

    "The digital 'Saturday Night Live' archive does not feature a recent Bruno Mars sketch because it includes impersonations of pop singers and their chart-topping hits.

    This is the problem with proprietary archives - the host gets to decide what goes in. Someone should go out and invent a distributed system where people can store files locally but share them with anyone else who is interested. If you cut the file into little pieces, you could even get the file from a bunch of other people simultaneously, cutting down the time and sharing the burden. All you'd need would be someone who agrees to record TV shows off the air, then compress and share the files. Admittedly this system relies a lot on volunteers, but it just might work.

    • by Gerinych (1393861)
      Yeah, but you have to think about the legality of this system. If the person hosting the files does not have permission from the creator to share them, it could cause a lot of problems, lawsuits and such. And your ISP ratting you out to the DMCA or whoever handles digital copyright laws.
    • by Yaa 101 (664725)

      You mean like in torrent?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You mean like in torrent?

        *WOOOSH* is the sound of the bits going through the tubes, of course.

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:02PM (#41753989)

    Music has always been a very sticky item in the motion pictures (TV and movies).

    A lot of the time, you can get permissions to do X, but you can't do Y (e.g., you can tape a production for broadcast, but you can't put it on a DVD). Especially with older things - many TV shows have to be re-cut with licensed music (this can include the opening sequence and credits too) as the original contracts for licensing never included home video or anything else. And some material can't be licensed anymore as their creators are dead and all that (and their estates refuse to grant licenses or permission).

    It's just another aspect of the convoluted nature of copyright and licensing.

    Top Gun was probably one of the first movies to use a LOT of licensed music during the movie (music composed specifically for a movie (soundtrack scores and such) usually are licensed fully to the movie for further uses as part of the movie, but external music often has commercial value that makes it impractical to grant it).

    It's a horrendous mess and something lawyers spend a lot of client money on in trying to obtain releases.

    Heck, I know one concert was recorded for Blu-Ray/DVD and PBS. PBS was allowed to include some extra tracks (as a non-profit) that were not allowed to be put on the Blu-Ray or DVD (because those were commercial ventures). Of course, the entire concert couldn't be put in since some didn't include recording and rebroadcast rights...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Isn't this problem what basically destroyed the old WKRP in Cincinnati program due to losing all relevance to the music?

      • by hymie! (95907)

        Well, it's the problem that destroyed the WKRP in Cincinnati (and Daria) DVD release. Whether or not it destroyed the original show, I don't know.

      • It caused problems for the SCTV DVD releases as well, as they couldn't get permission to use some of the songs. I recall Rick Morranis doing a hilarious version of Stairway to Heaven which now only is available via Youtube as a crappy VHS sample.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)
          "The Shmenge Brothers" and good luck even finding a crappy youtube rip of that one anymore, the RIAA slap the shit out of anybody that dares post it, which is a damned shame as its a polka Stairway that is pretty damned funny.
    • Actually, before Top Gun, FM [wikipedia.org] and Heavy Metal [wikipedia.org] were two other movies that featured extensive and problematic soundtrack licensing issues. Heavy Metal, for example, wasn't released to home video until 1995 (despite being released in 1981 to theaters) because they couldn't get the legal issues sorted. Even the original soundtrack LP left off songs that had appeared in the film.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      This is why contract should stipulate the the music for a show, is part of the show. The musician cna use it for other things records, concerts, etc, but thye can't control the work the piece is attached to.

      Of course, this is another example of how royalties are ruining the culture.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        This is why contract should stipulate the the music for a show, is part of the show. The musician cna use it for other things records, concerts, etc, but thye can't control the work the piece is attached to.

        Of course, this is another example of how royalties are ruining the culture.

        No, it's an example of how people who had no vision of the future are making your life less enjoyable, but it's hardly ruining the culture.

        Of course contracts should say that the music is part of the show. Why they didn't is the true issue, not that the original work has a copyright. Mostly it's an issue of the producers of a movie not thinking ahead and foreseeing a huge market for DVDs or the streaming video market.

        Really, who would have thought twenty years ago that you could sit in a park and watch v

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        This is why contract should stipulate the the music for a show, is part of the show.

        Before the mid-80's, no one thought of putting the language to cover home video into their licensing contracts. That's why most of the issues come from shows and movies from before then.

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          Before the mid-80's, no one thought of putting the language to cover home video into their licensing contracts. That's why most of the issues come from shows and movies from before then.

          I don't know the exact details, but the final episode of "The Prisoner" has the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" in it. Even on home video. Somehow they had gotten a perpetual, all media license for it way back then.

      • by Rakarra (112805)

        This is why contract should stipulate the the music for a show, is part of the show.

        That will greatly increase the price of the music used in the show then. Only having the rights to use it in the live broadcast makes it cheaper (and thus more possible) to do.

        So You Think You Can Dance is one of (if not my favorite) shows airing. I like dance, I like the performers, the competition, and the artistry that goes into the routines. However, it will never have a DVD release, since 3/4 of the show if dancing to music that was only licensed for the live broadcast. Past seasons are lost completely

      • by pantaril (1624521)

        Of course, this is another example of how royalties are ruining the culture.

        I think it's another example of how copyright is ruining our culture

    • The 1980 Heavy Metal movie had legendary problems, too. Nobody thought to clear ahead of time VCR sales, cable TV rebroadcasts, and so on.

      As for SNL, music in skits, like the musical guest, is a plum spot since it leads to sales for the musician. But being able to go watch it over and over any time for free on the Internet cuts into those sales.

      So, live show and the rerun, Ok. Infinite reruns of just that skit or song, no.

    • Music has always been a very sticky item in the motion pictures (TV and movies).

      A lot of the time, you can get permissions to do X, but you can't do Y (e.g., you can tape a production for broadcast, but you can't put it on a DVD). Especially with older things - many TV shows have to be re-cut with licensed music (this can include the opening sequence and credits too) as the original contracts for licensing never included home video or anything else. And some material can't be licensed anymore as their creators are dead and all that (and their estates refuse to grant licenses or permission).

      For some examples that are probably most relevant to US viewers...
      "Quantum Leap" has had all licensed songs replaced on the home video releases in region 1 (USA and Canada) for this reason.
      "WKRP In Cincinnati" was delayed from coming on DVD for many years for this reason and the final resolution of the issue (you can read the story on Wikipedia) has not made fans happy.
      "Malcolm In The Middle" will not likely ever have seasons 2-7 released in any home video format in region 1 for this reason. In on

      • "Freaks and Geeks" had big problems with this, too. They used a lot of well-known music and apparently paid dearly lot for it.

          Fun but irrelevant fact: the high school and the town in the show were fictional, but located right about where I was going to school in 1980.

    • by kimvette (919543)

      That's why this will never be released on DVD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1enfo8zn3_g [youtube.com]

  • It's a good thing I grabbed this show when I did. I saw the sketch... it was a 'meh' sketch. Bruno was really good though, but it just didn't compare to previous music impersonation sketches like 'bunny business' or the much better Star Wars screentests. I wonder how often they've removed sketches before with music issues?
  • by djl4570 (801529) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:13PM (#41754153) Journal
    Maybe NBC and it's parent corporation realized the original parody was fair use. They redacted it from the archives because they don't want bots sending DMCA notices and they don't want to take them to court and argue fair use.
  • It's just getting ridiculous. All this legal crap about copyrights. Augh

  • by houghi (78078) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:20PM (#41754235)

    Luckily we have copyright to protect the artists like Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson. Otherwise they would just stop making music.

    • by sconeu (64226)

      And Elvis. Don't forget, P2P killed Elvis [slashdot.org].

    • posting to undo moderation mistake. why the hell do they put redundant next to insightful?

    • by Rakarra (112805)

      Copyright is to protect the musicians

      It's to protect the rights holders, who are often not the musicians.

      The idea is that if the musicians can sell the rights to their music, then they can buy food and gear while writing and practicing.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:26PM (#41754315)

    The article states "... it can be presumed that the company refrained from uploading the sketch into its digital archive to avoid any legal issues", but doesn't seem to provide any supporting evidence - but it just proceeds to assume this is fact. The article does say "almost all of the best Saturday Night Live skits are currently available online" (emphasis mine). Even in the small number of comments posted here already there's already mention that this may not have been a particularly good sketch, and it's not like the archive is comprehensive - so why assume this sketch isn't in the archive because of legal concerns?

    Parody has been long proven to be protected speech. Additionally, an artist covering a different artist's song is long-established practice. There's simply no reason to believe this presumption has any basis in fact.

    • Saved me the trouble of typing all that out. If every SNL skit was available except this one then they'd have a clear point, but sometimes you just don't make the cut.

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @12:53PM (#41754639)
    to preserve artistic performances for future generations. Because the Big Four will never release footage of many performances (either because it isn't worth their while, or they are so scared that pirates will record and distribute for free or below cost). Really, such as VHS tapes made from 16mm film transfers of performances such as Jayne Mansfield playing the violin and another of her playing the piano on the Ed Sullivan show (yes, she really could play those instruments). A few people have copies of this (but they keep low profile to avoid attention from the Music And Film Industries Association), not sure if they ever will post on youtube (probably be taken down anyway). I've looked and see if Sullivan estates has this on DVD, apparently not as only sell Elvis, Beatles, Beach Boys. There are many other artists and music but have faded into obscurity, but probably be rediscovered by a 20-something musician rummaging through sheet music saved by some old timer from the 20th century. They will read the notes, thinking this is a brilliant piece of work and make a change in melody and release it as a "new" hit.
    • by antdude (79039)

      VCR? Eww, low quality. :(

      • by k6mfw (1182893)

        >VCR? Eww, low quality. :(

        But whatever noise, dribble or whatever, press the record button and it starts capturing immediately. No need to format, etc. if there is a glitch in the transmission or if power goes out, I still have what was taped.

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          Uhh, same with a TiVo or other hard drive/DVD recorder.

          • by k6mfw (1182893)
            from what I understand, you have to be online and subscribe to tivo (I've never used it), DVD recording (need to first format then later finalize) will crash if there is noise (and shelf life is much less than magnetic tape), hard drive (yes! but these are hard to get, my fav device is a Panasonic HDD deck that looks like the old school VHS/DVD but it has a harddrive. they stopped selling them). I usually don't followup with my posts but recording video is important to me as there is so much history that ca
            • by mattack2 (1165421)

              You can buy a "lifetime" subscription to Tivo.. lifetime of the device. If you amortize how long it's likely to last, it can easily be cheaper than a cable box with what most agree is a FAR worse UI. Plus, you can't download from your cable box (you can on a TiVo, nonprotected shows, which for MOST people is everything but premium channels like HBO).

              You don't need to finalize all types of DVD. e.g. DVD-RAM. My non-Tivo recorder does DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM. DVD-RAM performs just like a small hard dri

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In this day in age, with terrorism and everything else we can't afford to have any humor or things like parody, I say, don't let the door hit you on the way out. If we could purge the internet from the evils of parody and humor the world would be do much better off. One should not go buy a Weird Al CD, rather it is obvious to all, he should just be jailed for daring to be stupid.

  • by JazzHarper (745403) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @01:01PM (#41754755) Journal

    If the show aired without the necessary performance and sync clearances, then they already have legal issues. Simply removing it from on-line archives does not make them go away, but it does mitigate damages.

    On the other hand, they may have secured the necessary clearances and paid royalties for the original airing, but found that the royalties for on-line distribution were too high. In particular, since the music was integral to the storyline in a skit, as opposed to a standalone musical performance, one or more of the publishers may have demanded "grand rights" (performance, sync _and_ dramatic use), which carry heavy royalties for rebroadcast or distribution. That's a particular hassle because a dramatic use license must be negotiated with each publisher individually--it isn't handled automatically by the performance rights organizations--and the publisher may deny it altogether. Conceivably, one of the publishers may have raised the dramatic use claim after the show was aired, in which case, the video of this skit may be dead forever.

  • This is the same damn reason why I can't see most of the old MST3K shows, too.
  • I hope that entire 'entertainment' industry implodes into being just lawyers who sue each other all day. Starting with SNL which has never ever ever been funny except for maybe the first 2 seasons in the '70's.

    BTW I'm waiting the first popup ads IN motion pictures in the theaters. You know it's coming. Product placement, like Coke in Skyfall doesn't pimp it hard enough.

  • Yet another piece of content going the way of the "Penis Song".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Whenever I read an apologetically-toned blog post from the DVD team for a show I'm looking forward to, about how they had to change some of the music because the license was too expensive, I want to be able to say "fuck it, pirate bay." For that to work, we need people recording the original on-air broadcasts and uploading them to torrent sites, or rapidshare, or u****t. Even if it seems pointless, we need people doing it anyway. Even if it's available on the official website for free, with no commercial

  • It's freaking parody or satire ... it's absolutely supposed to be protected use.

    This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  • I saw it through another digital download source. It wasn't funny. Really the whole episode pretty much sucked, except for the debate sketch and the haunted house animatronics sketch.
  • And why, exactly, do people still think copyright beyond five years (or in fact at all) is a good idea?

    This stuff should have been public domain long ago.

  • Is this what happened to the original Shy Ronnie sketch?

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