Desperate to Pay Someone: The Hidden Owner of “Rock Around the Clock Tonight”

A neat application of economic language to intellectual property is calling copyright licensing fees “monopoly rent.” Assuming the conception of copyright as a state-granted monopoly for a limited time, for the benefit of society at large, the money that copyright holders make from licensing their works is state enforced monopoly rent.

This is perfect. I firmly believe that creators have the right to try to make money from their works, no matter how derivative (as long as they are not infringing), for a limited time*.

Given that copyright is magic pie to some creators, meaning that they make money from selling the same pieces of their rights to reprint and create derivative works over and over again, how do I pay for a slice of the pie?

Say I am making a Dr Who fan vid using this Bill Haley 1956 performance of “Rock Around the Clock Tonight”:

The vid may be fair use without a license, but because I am a Nervous Nelly I want to be completely clear. I see that this clip is ripped from the “The Legends of Rock & Roll” DVD, whose studio Amazon lists as Eagle Rock Ent. I check it out it’s a bust.

Now I take to Google–” “rock around the clock tonight” billy haley license “.

I find places I can buy a copy, but ownership entitles no right to perform, so I keep looking. Nothing on the first results page but offers to download it for free. If nothing else, the license holder has terrible search engine optimization, if pirates rank higher than they do. Looking further; still nothing.

I try a different tack–perhaps Billy Haley’s official site will direct me to who to pay? There does not appear to be one; though he has some sweet fans. There is a website for his band, The Comets.

30 minutes into this casual search, I am left with a single webpage that looks like it was hardcoded in 1997, with the option to email their media or info addresses. I just emailed a quick inquiry, and will report back later.

Currently, there is no “Rock Around the Clock Tonight” Dr Who fan vid, legal or illegal, on YouTube. Perhaps this is because others did not enjoy a childhood infused with 1950s rock, and don’t see the attraction. Their loss. But even if they wanted to use it and be sure they could not be sued for the song, they could not easily. If it takes 10 hours to make a mediocre fan vid, who would spend nearly 5% of that time Googling for who to pay for the soundtrack?

It should be easy to pay artists to use license their music legally–I should be able to pay $.99 for the song, and $5 for the license on iTunes. Who benefits from this cumbersome, stratified, ugly system?

Certainly not the Comets.

*I think that 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything (including the best length of copyright). “Rock Around the Clock Tonight” is one of my 15 songs that would be out of copyright if it were 42 years.

Inspirational Quote:

“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.”–William P. Merrill


  1. I am very curious is you ever found the Hidden Owner of “Rock Around the Clock Tonight”. Please post an update! I think the copyright situation is out of hand. I love this quote from BMI’s website: “Q: How Can We Find Out What Songs And Which Songwriters BMI Represents? More than one out of every two songs played on American radio today is BMI-licensed music…….” I guess we should just blindly pay BMI because they hold 50% of all copyrighted music.

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