Explained: Why has Heavy Young Heathens sued Olympic silver-winning figure skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier?

Musical outfit Heavy Young Heathens Thursday (February 24) filed a suit against the US figure-skating duo Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier soon after they won a silver medal at the recent Winter Olympics.

What is the lawsuit?

The US-based outfit comprising brothers and composers Aron Marderosian and Robert Marderosian filed the suit against their country’s figure-skating pair for the usage of their version of the folk song, House of the Rising Sun, without the artistes’ permission. The song was used in the trailer of director Antoine Fuqua’s western action film, The Magnificent Seven (2016).

In their suit, the musicians have also accused NBC of copyright infringement since the routine was broadcast on the channel. Knierim and Frazier won the silver medal in the team figure-skating event. The lawsuit calls the song “a very valuable licensing asset” and apart from money in damages, also asked to block any future replays as that would cause infringement by the skaters and the NBC. The suits also stated that the violation caused irreparable injury to the brothers. “These violations cause great harm to the value of [the Marderosians] command for such a well-known piece of their recording catalogue and insults the integrity of their professional reputation. While [the defendants] 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 licence,” reads the suit filed by the musicians’ father Mick Marderosian. The duo has also accused other companies such as Fox Sports, Discovery Inc, and Warner Brothers of misusing their work and filed lawsuits that were later settled.

Who are Heavy Young Heathens?

An artistic partnership between brother Aron Marderosian and Robert Marderosian, the Los Angeles-based musical outfit came into public eye after they composed for Punk’d (2013-2015) – a hidden camera reality show series created by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg. Known for their bass and drums sound, the two have recorded extensively for films, film trailers and television shows. Among these, the notable ones are Jersey Shore, C.S.I., Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and The Simpsons, among others. They also composed and performed the main theme to the famed Netflix series Lucifer. The two have also created music for the trailers of The Amazing Spiderman and Expendables 2.

Is House of the Rising Sun the property of Heavy Young Heathens?

The version of the song used by Knierim and Frazier was by Heavy Young Heathens. However, the song itself is an American folk song, which was recorded by a couple of singers in the ’30s and ’40s, including Noetown-based Georgia Turner. It’s unknown where Turner first heard the song but it’s widely believed that she heard it from another singer in the area named Clarence Ashley. Turner had recorded the song on American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s Presto disc recorder, which had been given to him by The Library of Congress for his first solo field-recording expedition. After this, the song was famously recorded as a folk standard by Woody Guthrie, Josh White, and Pete Seeger, among others, But it was the song’s folk-rock version by the British band The Animals that had the world sit up and take note. As the story goes, it had Bob Dylan so thrilled that he jumped out of his car after listening to it.

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Do figure skaters need to licence the music they skate to?

Yes, they do. Olympic routines fall under the category of live performances and require a licence agreement, which in this case should have been handled by the broadcaster – NBC. The skaters aren’t usually involved in any of the paperwork necessary for buying the licence of the music that they perform to. The live performance licence is also not very expensive as compared to the synchronisation licence which is purchased for songs in TV shows or movies. If the song is by someone as big as The Beatles, the fee is likely to be extremely high.

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