The series will finally be released on DVD on April 24th, but fans are already irate. The music originally included in the show has been replaced by generic muzak in order to placate the almighty copyright gods, who would otherwise have prevented the series from being released by (apparently) demanding so much licensing money as to render the whole project unfeasible.
Here's an account of the situation from the guy whose job it was to replace the offending musical compositions in order to pave the way for the series' release on DVD:
"During my years with MTM, I was asked to perform the most painful duty I have ever had to do in entertainment business. I was given the task of excising much of the original music from the episodes and replace it with Muzak-style songs that could be licensed in perpetuity for a small flat fee. This was deemed necessary in order to keep the program in syndication.
"Music" in the above discussion refers not to the musical composition, but to the sound recording. Making DVDs of music even when included in a TV show involves the reproduction right, and without a license from the music composition owner, no such DVD can be distributed. The real problem is the sound recording then. The muzak solution is the cheap way out. Other times, as with sound track albums, a sound-alike band has been hired to produce a sound recording mimicing exactly the original performance. This happened with the soundtrack to Peter Fonda's 1969 "Easy Rider" movie, when The Band would not give permission for its song The Weight to be included in the (vinyl) album, and so a cover was done by Smith. A reviewer on amazon.com gives the story in connection with a 2 CD release:
"The new music that was inserted into the show sucked ass. It was wrong for the feel and attitude of the show. Some scenes relied on specific songs at particular junctures (i.e., Les Nessman trying on a toupee to the soundtrack of Foreigner's “Hot Blooded”) . Those scenes were ruined. In many instances, we couldn't even finesse the proper audio levels in order to cut the costs of replacing the music...
"Allegedly, the original producer of the show (Hugh Wilson) was involved in replacing the Muzak with some other generic songs that are more palatable. While this is admirable, and Wilson has some great artistic instincts, it still isn't enough to undo the damage."
In some ways it's fitting that the soundtrack to this landmark film has suffered a series of legal hassles from The Man. In its original 1969 vinyl release, it was denied the film's use of The Band's "The Weight" (by the band's then-label Capitol), and a sound-alike cover by Smith was issued in its place. More recently, the soundtrack was withheld from domestic CD reissue, squeaking out a European version many years before MCA's 2000 digital issue. The latter reunited The Band with their film-mates, at the expense of altering the original Smith-bred artifact. Hip-O's deluxe two-disc reissue provides the best of both worlds - including both versions of "The Weight" - and filling out a second disc of contemporaneous radio hits.
One can now decide which one prefers, Smith or the Band. The legal basis for covers of sound recordings goes back to the original 1971 legislation granting federal copyright in sound recordings, embodied now in Section 114(b):
The exclusive right of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clause (1) of section 106 is limited to the right to duplicate the sound recording in the form of phonorecords or copies that directly or indirectly recapture the actual sounds fixed in the recording. The exclusive right of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clause (2) of section 106 is limited to the right to prepare a derivative work in which the actual sounds fixed in the sound recording are rearranged, remixed, or otherwise altered in sequence or quality. The exclusive rights of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clauses (1) and (2) of section 106 do not extend to the making or duplication of another sound recording that consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording.