Elusive UK dance act The KLF are engaged in a copyright dispute over the rights to use their music in an unofficial documentary, ‘Who Killed The KLF?’
The film, directed by Chris Atkins, dives into the group’s backstory, charting their chart success in the late-1980s and early-90s with singles such as ‘3AM Eternal’, ‘Justified and Ancient’, and ‘America: What Time Is Love?’, alongside their controversial decision to bow out of music and enter the art scene as the K Foundation, literally setting fire to one million pounds in the process.
It has now emerged the artists — also known as Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, or Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty — have instructed their music publisher to block the as-yet-unreleased movie because of a lack of license to use the band’s songs. According to reports, this battle has been going on for one year.
The KLF’s landmark album, ‘1987: What The Fuck Is Going On’, was itself the centre of a major row over the use of unauthorised samples. In the end, the band lost and were forced to take the record off sale, dumping all remaining copies in the North Sea. It has also been rumoured that KLF stands for Kopyright Liberation Front, although this has never been confirmed.
“The irony is they used very big uncleared samples in all their early tracks,” Chris Atkins, director of ‘Who Killed the KLF?’, told The Guardian. He insists there is no legal requirement for express permission to use excerpts from tracks providing the use can be considered criticism.
“We always champion the value of our songwriters’ music,” a spokesperson for the KLF’s publisher, Warner Chappell, told the newspaper after an attempt to stop the documentary premiering at a Texas film festival last month. “Feature-length documentaries made for profit, which make extensive use of an artist’s music, are not covered by the fair dealing exception to copyright law, which is why we took action in this case.”
Although no official comment has been made by the band since news of the legal situation hit, in a 2016 interview with Strokeface, Couty said of plans for the film: “We don’t want to do it – it’s like an archaeological dig through the past… We’re doing other things that we think are much more interesting.”
Nevertheless, Atkins seems convinced ‘Who Killed the KLF?’ will eventually be released, complete with desired soundtrack. “It’s the definitive telling of the greatest music and art story of the 20th century that’s never really been told, because the two protagonists won’t talk about it,” he said.
Earlier this year, a selection of music from the KLF’s back catalogue was uploaded to streaming services for the first time, including a ‘directors cut’ of their seminal 1991 LP, ‘The White Room’. In 1997 they reunited, in a manner of speaking; forming, performing, and disbanding during a 23-minute show at London’s Barbican Centre, under the name 2K. 2017 then saw them make another unexpected and short-lived return with the promise of new music and a live show in Liverpool, involving a fan parade led by an ice cream van and a performance from Jarvis Cocker. They also revealed plans to start a funeral business and build a pyramid of human ashes in the city’s Toxteth area.