Canucks and Beyond

Two Sides to Every Story

06/14/2008 at 4:42pm EDT

For a story of such uniquely-Canadian relevance, the controversy over The Hockey Theme leaving the CBC had a notable international tone.

Madeleine Morris lives and works in Vietnam and also happens to be the daughter of Dolores Claman, the much-discussed (and frequently reviled) composer of the The Hockey Theme who currently resides in the UK.

It was Ms. Morris who was left to undertake the task of defending her mother’s position, and with all the wailing despair over the loss of Canada’s de facto national anthem, I don’t think many people were listening.

In my own case, it was only after a former CBC employee contacted me with more information that I got curious enough to seek out Ms. Morris and ask for her side of the story.

While she currently lives and works in Vietnam, Madeleine Morris was traveling when the story broke in Canada.

“At the moment, I live and teach in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,” she told me. “I was visiting my mother for my once a year holiday when the whole hoohaw happened.”

The “hoohaw,” of course, was the publicity related to her mother’s lawsuit against the CBC and the fact that CBC’s rights to the song were about to run out.

David Staples at the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal suggested the timing of the story was suspect:

It’s worth noting that it was Claman’s side that just went public with this. Why did they do that?

Perhaps to make the most noise at the best moment, just as hockey is at the height of its news cycle, with the Stanley Cup just awarded to Detroit.

It’s a fair comment and something I noted myself (suggesting it might even be considered “sleezy”) but after some thought I’d have to acknowledge there was a piece of logic missing from that argument.

If you think about it, when else would this information have gone public? That was the very day the CBC’s rights ran out on the song, after all. And that would have nothing to do with the timing of the Stanley Cup, simply the structure of the last deal that CBC signed onto. June 4th was D-Day and would’ve been news regardless of whether Ms. Claman’s representatives released a public statement or not.

Another thing that made me wonder about the assumptions we were making about Claman were comments from Globe & Mail journalist James Mirtle, on his blog:

The composer has been well-compensated for 40 years for a short piece of music put together in less than a day, and the $2.5-million lawsuit is a flat out attempt to gouge the broadcaster.

Don’t fall for this one.

I appreciate where Mr. Mirtle was coming from since it was an obvious thing to wonder about. But how do we really know she was well-compensated? More importantly, how do we know she was fairly compensated?

According Ms. Morris, “For 25 years, CBC paid my mother no license fees at all for the music. It was only in the last 15 years that they began to pay any license fee at all.”

Would that be considered “fair”?

Regardless of what you think the song is worth (and frankly, with all due respect to Mr. Mirtle, the “short piece of music put together in less than a day” argument isn’t a persuasive one; the same could be said of a hundred pop songs, no doubt, with a lot less longevity than 40-some years) it is the property of Ms. Claman. She was entitled to do with it as she liked.

Whether you want to call it greed or not is up to you.

I’m a devout fan of the CBC and HNIC in particular, and have had many great personal experiences (and not even a single bad one) in dealing with their people in relation to the hockey news. But the CBC is also a big business, and big business isn’t always the most innocent of victims.

So, for your consideration, the other side of the story as told by Madeleine Morris. As one friend told me, “Having worked with the CBC, I don’t doubt a word of it.”

I just wanted to thank you, on behalf of my mother, for your support of the hockey theme. I also wanted you to know my side of the story, because it’s important to me. What I hope you will acknowledge is that the CBC has had an exclusive media platform on which to air its side of the story.

First, to clear up some misconceptions. For 25 years, CBC paid my mother no license fees at all for the music. It was only in the last 15 years that they began to pay any license fee at all.

Last week, after more than a year of CBC bullying, threatening and endless changing of positions, we offered the CBC the following deal: forget the lawsuit - just pay our legal fees (which we incurred because of CBC’s breach of usage as agreed in the license deal) and let’s keep the same licensing deal as before. That’s it…same as before. $500 per episode of HNIC. They did not accept.

They kept bullying us, telling us the song was worthless, threatening to drop the song altogether if we didn’t give them exactly what they wanted, absolutely on their terms. If not, they’d hold a national contest and replace the song. Honestly, it became increasingly clear to us that this was their plan all along - to offer deals that were impossible for us to accept, so they would have the excuse to drop the song without being blamed for doing it. On Thursday, they sent us an email rejecting the offer and saying that it was sad we could not come to an agreement.

Then on Friday, Scott Moore of the CBC announced the Song Contest to replace the theme. So, it was clear, for sure, that this was over for us.

My belief is that when it started to become clear to the CBC that the public wasn’t happy with their decision, they announced that they would negotiate further. Frankly, my mother was so depressed, she just said - no, they don’t really want the song. It’s better at least if it dies a dignified death.

When CTV made an offer, they promised that they’d use the song, and they’d use it in association with Canadian hockey. Of all the things, this mattered most to my mother.

I know you are probably upset that we didn’t resolve our differences with the CBC, but no matter what they say publicly, they really, clearly, didn’t give a shit about the theme. Their only concern was they should not be seen to be the villains in getting rid of it. My mother became a very convenient scapegoat.

To a composer, their music is like their baby - they don’t want to see it buried, or forgotten, or sidelined. And my mother, being a rather strong woman, just wasn’t willing to be bullied and threatened any more. A lot of people are going to call her greedy and opportunistic. Well, they just don’t know her at all. It’s going to sound trite if I say that “it wasn’t about the money”. But ask any composer of music if they want to see their work buried, and never played again. It’s easy to focus on the money. But it was never, ever about the money. Life, and people, are just a lot more complex than that.

That’s my side of the story, for what it’s worth.

Madeleine Morris

Having originally wrote that on June 10th, Ms. Morris did ask me to note that she would prefer to temper some of her remarks upon reflection.

“I did address some of the commenters issues on the blog, including the very legitimate complaint that I was tarring the whole of the CBC with the same brush. I did apologize for that - it really wasn’t at all fair.”


My sincere thanks to Madeleine Morris and John Ciccone of Copyright Music & Visuals for taking the time to answer my questions.

*letter originally published on Madeleine’s blog, reprinted here with permission of the author
*her responses to readers can be read here
*for the curious, more on Dolores Claman’s rather remarkable career can be read in The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada

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