Don't Steal! Make a Withdrawal From Your Brain Trust

by Andrew Frame

Is there a piece of software on your computer that did not come with your computer, that you did not pay for? Do you have any shareware not "registered?" Do you have a cassette of a CD from the station library in your car? Did you use "Bad to the Bone" for a motorcycle shop? Did you do an impression of Forrest Gump for a spot? Then you are a thief, a pirate. You have used to your benefit the intellectual output of someone's creativity, you didn't pay them for it, and they didn't give it to you. And, we are all, without exception, guilty, guilty, guilty.

You are not allowed to use an impression of a copyrighted character for a commercial. You are not allowed to use a song for a commercial. General Motors paid to use "Like a Rock." Nike paid to use Dave Edmunds "Sabre Dance." Did you pay to use "Born to be Wild" for that tattoo parlor?

If you wrote a clever piece of software, sold it to one person, then that person gave it to a hundred friends, you've been ripped off. So why are you ripping off others? Because your General Manager, who feels "we're too small to be noticed" told you to. Your Sales Manager, who only speaks in statistics and data, told you to. Your Program Director, who doesn't want to make waves, is avoiding the matter. And the salesperson, who is seeking commission, is the client's advocate and not the station's.

And when you stick to your guns about copyright infringement, the client threatens to go to your competition who will gladly do whatever they are told. You are alone in the matter. What to do? Capitulate, find another job, or....

There is another way, that sometimes works...sometimes. First, realize the problem and the solution to this problem is not with you. You are trying to uphold the law and the spirit of the law and the intellectual rights of another creative individual like yourself. The problem is with the client, and part of the solution is with...your salesperson. A salesperson worth their salt will try to give the client the nickel version of copyright. But in order to move a client off what the client wants, they're going to have to replace it with something. They will have to use the only selling tool they can use to change the client's mind. You. Your legendary creativity. Your famous writing. Your mind-bending production. And it starts in an hour. (Just kidding....)

What can you offer this client? This is crunch time. This is your moment in the spotlight. You are on your own. You will save this buy. And the salesperson won't remember how you saved the day tomorrow. Ah, well. Fame is fleeting.

This is where the benefit of a brain trust and an idea pool come in. Your brain trust is made up of the people at your station that you regard as intelligent and creative. Mine is one Program Director, two air talents, and one salesperson. Play word association with each of them for one minute. Ask for ideas. Listen to the RAP Cassette. Listen to whatever you have in your hidey-hole that you thought was very clever and worth saving. You might not use the product on any of these ideas exactly, but it should at least put you on a good trail to come up with something creative and sellable. And remember, creative does not necessarily mean four voices, twelve sound effects, and a partridge in a pear tree. Some of your best work can be a monologue spot, if it's written and produced well.

Then, consult your idea pool. Half of mine is a file in the word processor that contains four or five hundred really nifty one-liners that eventually end up incorporated into station sweepers. The other half is most every scrap of copy that I've written in the last five years, also in the computer. Checking your index, you may run across a great idea that worked wonders for a company two years ago, but hasn't been used since.

The key to being able to offer a client a spot is being prepared to offer them a spot. Have a couple of standby ideas on sticky-notes...just in case. Write a spec spot a day to sharpen your writing and thinking skills, and keep them in a file...just in case.

Arrange to speak with the client directly. You can ask the questions necessary to find out what they want. Many times, the client-salesperson-production communication line gets muddled. Be unbelievably, incredibly, phenomenally, famously polite, cooperative, courteous, and suck-uppish. In the end, after you've done your wizardry, they'll think you're some kind of minor deity and can do no wrong.

You have again proved your unique ability to develop a creative solution to someone else's problem. For the moment, the salesperson is happy, the client is mostly happy, and you may have just developed a client-producer work relationship your salesperson can never have, but only envy.

Be warned, though. Management/sales gets obscenely paranoid, and pink-slip hostile, when someone talks to "their" client. They frequently forget that we are all on the same team--even after they were slobbering on your shoes to bail their backsides out of another "emergency."

Do these ideas sound like regular production "fixes," things you might be doing anyway? They should be. No matter what kind of "emergency" tracks in, your advance preparation can make it just another day at the office.

Does this solve the copyright infringement problem? No, and as long as greed is the motivating factor in the world, it won't. General Managers that think they are insulated from lawsuit "because they only go after the big boys" only have to get their wallet slammed to the mat once before that tune changes. Right now, there is legislation that will cause intellectual property royalties in some cases to evaporate. So, when confronted with blatantly illegal demands like copyright infringement, hold your ground, offer options, and know when to back down.

Since most of us aren't in this gig for the money, a little integrity once in a while is a nice thing to cash in on.