If you’ve been trying to watch Justin Timberlake’s mock musical eulogy of Hugo Chavez from Saturday’s “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), good luck. That’s because the skit that was the show’s opening number has been scrubbed from all online episodes of the show, including NBC.com’s SNL page and even popular TV-watching sites like Hulu.
The skit, which was the “cold open” and featured the popular line “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”, was praised as a funny but accurate depiction of the now-deceased Venezuelan dictator. It featured host Justin Timberlake singing a spoof of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”
But instead of viewers and fans being able to enjoy the performance, this is what you see when you try to watch it on Hulu (an ad and then a cut right to the opening credits — no opening skit):
But here’s how the show actually opened:
Equally interesting is that all copies of it on YouTube are disappearing, too. The question remains: Why? Some commenters on the Hulu page have speculated it was too “political”:
But fans aren’t the only ones speculating that politics was involved. Music industry expert Nikki Marshall, who teaches classes on copyright issues through her “Life of a Copyright” series and owns a company that specializes in media rights and clearances, told TheBlaze this situation sounds like a music publisher pulling some of the rights to its tunes.
“What I assume is they [SNL] probably got clearance to use the music for television, but the publisher thought because it was political they didn’t want to give clearance for online play,” she explained.
According to Marshall, publishers will make such requests from time to time. But how does that fall in line with previous case law that says artists are allowed to make parodies under “fair use”?
“This is where the law gets a little gray,” she said. While technically NBC could have fought the request, the reality is SNL is a show with a lot of music and has to deal with music publishers all the time. Since there are only about five major companies, fighting one of them on such a request could be trouble in the future.
“They don’t want to burn any bridges with the publisher,” she said, adding that the publisher has probably made a similar request regarding YouTube clips, which have been disappearing.
As for the show, despite the attempts to scrub the opening there were plenty of people who saw it anyway. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Saturday’s episode was the show’s highest-rated in 14 months.
We reached out to NBC but did not receive comment. We also reached out to the music publisher, Universal, but have yet to hear back.
This story has been updated.