Twitter temporarily suspends Music Box Theatre’s account. Blame it on that song from ‘Top Gun.’

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

Twitter can suspend an account for all sorts of reasons. A president or ex-president might violate the rules of hate speech or incendiary language designed to foment an insurrection, for example.

Or the suspension might involve a beloved Chicago theater and an Oscar-winning song from “Top Gun.”

Over the weekend, a ripple of cinephiliac panic spread virally as the result of the sudden, unexplained suspension of the Music Box Theatre’s Twitter account.

Was the 92-year-old Lakeview movie emporium in dire trouble? Had current owner William Schopf given up abruptly on the film exhibition game, after nearly a full year of pandemic capacity restrictions and economic losses?

No. That wasn’t it. Devotees of the brick-and-mortar moviegoing experience in general and the Southport Avenue landmark in particular needn’t worry, at least about the Music Box.

Turns out it’s a four-year old copyright infringement matter. On Feb 27, Twitter informed the Music Box of its temporary account suspension, because of the theater’s Twitter account violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

In 2017, the Music Box did what it did every year in pre-COVID times: It created a coming-attractions trailer for its annual 70 Millimeter Film Festival. That year’s lineup included “Spartacus,” “West Side Story,” “Interstellar” — and the 1986 flyboy and volleyball smash “Top Gun,” the sequel to which is arriving July 2, 2021, depending on likely pandemic scheduling reshuffles.

The theater’s festival trailer used the “Top Gun” theme song, “Take My Breath Away,” as underscoring. Sony Music Entertainment, rights-holders of the Giorgio Moroder/Tom Whitlock song, eventually got wind of it and called foul.

The trailer, which had been floating around for years on Twitter and Facebook, has been taken down, according to Music Box senior operations manager Buck LePard. Twitter, LePard said Sunday, heard from Sony mid-January. And last week the Music Box heard from the Content Protection & Enforcement division of the archaic-sounding International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. (That’s “phono’,” by the way, not “porno-.”) The London-based IFPI trade group represents various record companies, Sony among them.

The Music Box’s Twitter account, which LePard manages (and manages to make very entertaining), should be back up by Feb. 24.

Per Cook County COVID restrictions, the 750-seat main auditorium will continue to operate with a 50-person capacity. The second, much smaller auditorium, meantime, will extend its rent-a-theater programming.

“It’s doing very well, and it helps,” Music Box publicist Steve Prokopy said. For months, both auditoriums have been made available for private viewing parties. “Last Saturday it was ‘Moulin Rouge’ in one theater and John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ in the other,” he said. “Some people bring in their Blu-rays; other people actually have prints. We had a ‘Moana’ party the other day.”

As for the temporary Twitter suspension, LePard said, “it’s a very isolated incident. Just like Trump. Though I’d like to think our Twitter (infraction) was a little less incendiary.”

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

Twitter @phillipstribune

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