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R.E.M. PR firm rips off Improv Everywhere, then apologizes

Rock band at first seems to copy culture-jamming collective's innovative work without credit, and then issues an apology.

An R.E.M. video posted to YouTube was an obvious take-off of the 'Frozen Grand Central' video from culture-jamming group Improv Everywhere and originally didn't give proper credit. The band has taken the video down and told Improv Everywhere it is re-editing it. YouTube

Update (3:52 pm): This story got the name of the R.E.M. video wrong. It's fixed in the text below. Additionally, there's new comments from Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd below.

After reading Tuesday night on Laughing Squid that a new R.E.M. video had been posted by the band's publicity firm on YouTube that seemed to blatantly rip off Improv Everywhere's now-famous "freezes," I wrote to the culture jamming collective's founder to get his take.

"I did not know they were making this video and was not involved in any way," Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere's founder, told me by e-mail late last night. "They edited the YouTube description to give us credit, which is enough to satisfy me."

In fact, the publicity firm later removed the video from the YouTube remhq channel, and wrote Todd a note saying, "Sincere apologies and do note us on team R.E.M. love the stuff you guys do."

The note also said that the video would be re-edited to give Improv Everywhere credit.

The video, R.E.M.'s "The Big Still," was an obvious take-off on Improv Everywhere's now-famous Grand Central Station freeze event, in which hundreds of participants showed up in the Manhattan train station and suddenly froze in place for five minutes. Improv Everywhere's YouTube video of the event has been seen nearly 9.9 million times.

In a posting on the Improv Everywhere site, Todd wrote, "It's sort of shocking to see this video which gives absolutely no credit to us and presents the concept of 'getting a mob of people to freeze in place in a public area' as their own original idea."

But all seems well now. And it's nice to see a band like R.E.M., or its publicity people, be so reactive and responsive to this kind of calling out.

Of course, one issue seems to be the question of what's original. As a commenter on this story posted earlier today, a TV sketch comedy show had done a bit with freezes years before Improv Everywhere came along.

To Todd, that's not necessarily the point.

"We never claimed to invent the idea of freezing in place," Todd wrote to me in an email Wednesday. "I'm sure a caveman froze in place as a gag. What I said in the post (on Improv Everywhere's site) was that we started the current worldwide phenomenon of 'getting a mob of people to freeze in place in a public area.' It's happened in over 27 countries and it's all been inspired by our Frozen Grand Central video which has almost 10 million views on YouTube. So sure, Just For Laughs had 1 to 3 people freeze in place at a time in a grocery store many years ago for their television show, but I don't really think that's relevant to what happened here with R.E.M."