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"Monty Python's Life of Brian" used in Orange political ad. Have the Nats been very naughty boys?

March 9, 2023

A still shot from the humorous video put out by Tony Mileto, with John Cleese's role of Reg played by councillor Steve Peterson. Copyright: Monty Python/HandMade Films.

By Peter Holmes

Members of the National Party have used a clip from the classic 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian to promote their candidate for Orange, Tony Mileto.

In doing so, have they been very naughty boys? Or are they just having a laugh?

Copyrighted footage from a famous scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian has been used to promote Mileto's political campaign and ask for volunteers.

The conservative Orange City councillor is hoping to defeat sitting MP Phil Donato, who is seeking a third term as an independent after quitting the Shooters, Farmers & Fishers Party.

Mileto posted a video to social media with the headline "MONTY PYTHON SUPPORTS TONY MILETO, CAN YOU?"

The original post. Photo: Facebook.

The post featured a clip - widely known as the "What did the Romans ever do for us?" scene - featuring John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin.

In the scene a list of Roman achievements - aqueducts, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine, education, wine - are peeled off as evidence that the Romans aren't all that bad.

In the clip published by Mileto, the original actors are replaced by locals - including councillor Steve Peterson in John Cleese's role as Reg - who list National Party achievements in Orange including $60 million for the sporting precinct, road upgrades, the Regional Investment Corporation and the Charles Sturt University medical school.

One of those involved in the making of the video told The Orange News Examiner that they were under the impression it was permissible to use the Monty Python clip as "small sections of a copyrighted work can be used for parody and news purposes".

However these exemptions generally apply to publishers such as media organisations and comedy programs - which sometimes use copyrighted material such as a photo or video in a news report [such as this] or a satirical segment.

The Monty Python website, which contains photographs and video, states: "The information, artwork, text, video, audio, pictures, software and other intellectual property (collectively, "Materials") contained on the Website are protected by copyright and international laws.

"You may only access and use the Materials for personal use. You may not otherwise reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, modify or create derivative works of the Materials (or authorise others to) for commercial gain, unless authorised by the appropriate copyright owner(s)."

A screenshot of the BuzzFeed News story about George Christensen being given a nudge by Sony/ATV after using a classic Australian song without permission.

In 2019 I reported for BuzzFeed News that controversial conservative North Queensland politician George Christensen had recorded a new vocal for the iconic Australian "list" song I've Been Everywhere.

I've Been Everywhere was written in 1959 by Australian songwriter Geoff Mack and first became a hit for local singer Lucky Starr in 1962.

Christensen took Mack's song and rewrote it for political gain, changing the list of place names to crowing about his achievements. His changes included rewriting the lyrics from "I've been everywhere" to "I got us our share man".

A video showed Christensen - who has since retired - driving a vehicle while singing the song.

APRA-AMCOS, which represents the interests of singers, bands and songwriters, ordered Christensen to remove the video, which had been viewed thousands of times.

At the time, Sony/ATV publishing's Damian Trotter told me Christensen "hasn't sought permission to use the song or make changes to the lyrics. Irrespective of how a song is used, whether for a commercial or TV or a politician, you need the approval of the songwriter or their heirs. No approvals have been sought".

Trotter had said he found it "ironic and disturbing that an Australian politician responsible for legislation in the parliament should have such flagrant disregard for the law".

The Orange News Examiner has sought comment from Monty Python, Mercury Studios, Tony Mileto and Steve Peterson.

By mid-morning on Thursday the post appeared to have been taken down.

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