Apparently, the Sony Corporation couldn't appreciate the comedic value of "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice." They weren't even impressed with "Leper Madonna."
After four years of playfully performing Beatles songs in a Metallica style, Milwaukee band Beatallica got the corporate smack down a few weeks ago from Sony/ATV publishing, which owns the rights to the Beatles catalog.
On February 17, Sony/ATV sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company hosting the band's Web site, and then a week later sent one to the band's webmaster, claiming "substantial and irreparable injury" and threatening legal action if Beatallica did not take their twisted homages off the Web site. The publishing company also asked the group to pay as-yet-unspecified damages.
The band — which formed in 2001 as a one-off Metallica tribute act — has claimed it is not infringing copyrights, but is lovingly parodying the Beatles; parodies are protected by copyright law. The beatallica.com site has been shut down and the group is consulting with its lawyers, according to webmaster David Dixon.
"Early on they talked to lawyers who told them that this was covered under the parody precedent of the 2 Live Crew case," Dixon said, citing the infamous 1994 case in which the raunchy rap act prevailed in a suit filed by the company representing Roy Orbison over their salacious parody of his song "Oh, Pretty Woman," titled "Pretty Woman."
Beatallica, who have reportedly been praised by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, originally got together as a Metallica cover act for 2001's Spoof Fest in their hometown, a popular annual event in which bands pay tribute to their favorite rock bands. Soon after they hatched the idea of melding Metallica's crunching chords with the Beatles' sweet harmonies. They recorded an EP, A Garage Dayz Night, that year and distributed CD-Rs to a few friends, with one eventually making its way to Dixon.
On songs such as "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice," vocalist "James" does a passable imitation of Metallica singer James Hetfield yowling a profanity-spiced cover of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" featuring touches of Metallica's "Trapped Under Ice." The mash-up approach is similar to jokey cover band Dread Zeppelin, which has released a string of albums such as No Quarter Pounder, on which singer Tortelvis channels the King doing reggae versions of Led Zeppelin classics.
"I thought it was the best musical parody I'd heard since Spinal Tap, so I made this Web site and told a few friends," Dixon said, adding that the site had been visited by fans on every continent and that Beatallica songs had been downloaded and traded online an estimated 1 million times.
Among the most popular songs traded are: "And Justice For All My Loving," "Blackened the USSR," "Hey Dude," "Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride Except For Me And My Lightning," "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band," "I Want to Choke Your Band," "And I'm Evil" and "The Thing That Should Not Let It Be." The songs are still readily available on a number of unaffiliated Web sites.
The bandmembers, who have kept their day jobs and "barely break even" by playing shows and selling T-shirts, feel that, if nothing else, they're turning young metal fans on to the Beatles, Dixon said.
But, despite the assurances of Beatallica's lawyers, Sony claims in its letter that "such uses of Sony/ATV compositions without the express authorization or license has caused and continues to cause substantial and irreparable injury, and is in direct violation of Sony/ATV's rights," according to a copy of the cease-and-desist letter provided by Dixon.
The webmaster is encouraging fans to visit the bulletin board on the site and sign an online petition asking Sony to drop the case. More than 6,000 people have already done so. A Sony/ATV spokesperson did not return calls for comment.