Conan O'Brien: Copyright Challenger


Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Say what you will about the Conan O’Brien-NBC rift. A silly distraction or a reflection of the state of Olde World entertainment in the 21st Century?

Who cares. Skip those arguments for a moment.

Conan’s expensive stunts are where it’s at.

Last night, Conan dressed a Bugatti up as a mouse and played the original cut of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” It cost more than $1 million to put together and air.

Tonight, Conan bought 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, draped it in a mink Snuggie and had it watch restricted NFL programming. That cost more than $4 million.

What should be, and with any hope is, eye-opening for people is the catastrophic costs and the potential reasoning behind these high costs. Why should it cost NBC that much to pay to play an old NFL game or a song that anyone familiar with rock ‘n’ roll has heard 100 times over? Why should it cost so much to replay those brief clips during reruns? Where does all the money go anyway?

Perhaps if RIAA suits, crackdowns on sampling and issues with fair use never made people question the absurd costs associated with using copy-written material, maybe Conan’s last week on the Tonight Show will shine a little light on a thoroughly complex issue.


7 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Sara Libby #

    Awesome take on a tired story.

  2. 2

    Satisfaction was what Conan got, hence the song. While it might cost a bit to play the song, the car was what cost the big bucks.

    So Leor, you’re missing the point. Conan is just finding creative ways to spend the network’s money. “Satisfaction” and NFL programming was just icing on an already expensive cake.

  3. rockyinlaw #

    I like your angle. Which leads me to my question: So you have a problem with artists and athletes earning income from their labors? Or are you suggesting they are not earning income from their labors and that someone/group of others is exploiting them? Or are you saying that common already-in-the-culture stuff (like the Rolling Stones’ music) should be public domain by virtue of its popularity? ?????

  4. Leor Galil #

    Hey Fred,

    I think you’re missing my point. Surely you didn’t think I was implying that “Satisfaction” and NFL programming cost the majority of the money spent in those episodes, did you? It was just that I found it an interesting way to express big expenses to an audience that might not think about the costs associated with an item like the original recording of “Satisfaction.” When you have two expensive items, and ones that are noted as being rather expensive to put on the air, then people will take notice simply because of the catastrophic total cost.

    Also, as the AV Club pointed out, the real money is in the royalties paid to play that section of the episode when “Satisfaction” plays in future reruns and online:,37359/

    That’s something Conan pointed out on that part of the episode itself.

    So, yes, I understand that Conan was finding creative ways of splurging money. Everyone understands that. I’m just finding creative ways of viewing the whole situation other than “Conan did this crazy thing last night!”

  5. Leor Galil #

    I fully support artists and athletes making an income from their labors: That’s why I continue to pay for music (I’ve got an emusic account, I purchase CDs and I buy digital releases on a number of websites) and sporting events.

    And, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the money earned from things like royalty fees really doesn’t end in the artists hands, as the case of Too Much Joy has shown:

    And as far as the public domain goes, well, why shouldn’t things be available in the public domain? And that’s regardless of popularity. Yes, artists, athletes and anyone who earns an income should continue to do so, but we should question where certain amounts of royalty fees go and question some copyright restrictions that exist. What about fair use? What about educational benefits? It’s one of the many reasons I enjoy the Creative Commons idea of creating a method of finding other ways to support artists while giving them full credit and not shutting down fair use options. Thank goodness for the Free Music Archive:

    I mean, if you want to talk about artists not making money from their work, take a peek at the recent PBS doc. Copyright Criminals, which discusses how James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield, the man who created the “funky drummer” beat that’s been used and reused countless of times in hip-hop songs, hasn’t made any money off of royalty fees incurred when hip-hop acts sample his work and has barely received any credit for his work. Now that’s messed up.

  6. 6

    It was a hilarious bit, for sure. Even if it was all as faux as the mink Snuggie worn by an equine impostor. NBC never purchased Mine that Bird (they found a look-alike with too-red mane), the NFL game the horse was gazing at was actually USFL footage from a 1984 USFL game between the Tampa Bay Bandits and Houston Gamblers, and the Snuggie was, well, synthetic. Even the now infamous Bugatti mouse was a ruse. The car was a loaner from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. They provided the car, and NBC only had to (ahem) pony up whatever expenses were involved with the rental.

    It, like most of this whole fracas, suggests that in the end, it’s the thought that counts.

  7. joneshello #

    It was a bit, a joke, comedic retribution. He wasn’t really spending millions. He’s a comedian doing comedy.

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