It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

Public Relations Posted Jul 24, 2014 by chenpr

 “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
                                                                           –Grace Hopper

Cutting through all the red tape of the modern world can be a real pain in the ass. I don’t know much about Grace Hopper, who is widely credited as the person who coined the above axiom, but I think it’s safe to say that she was on to something. Bureaucrats be damned—sometimes you need to bypass the bullshit and get down to brass tacks. So in honor of all men and women of action, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite stories of people exercising badassery in spite of the possible repercussions.

1. Girl Talk

WARNING: Language NSFW

For those of you who don’t know Girl Talk is the pseudonym for Gregg Gillis, an electronic musician and producer. Gregg creates what are normally referred to as mashups, where he will use recording software to cut up the audio of different songs and edit them together in a way that is wholly unique. The problem is that he does not get permission to use the copyrighted audio recordings and therefore all of his music constitutes copyright infringement. Some of his songs can contain samples from well over 20 different recordings.

Girl Talk ended up becoming very popular in a very quickly. By the time record labels realized their copyrights where being infringed Mr. Gillis was already selling out shows across the country. Some of the most preeminent and progressive lawyers in IP law saw this and decided to support Gregg’s cause, thinking him the perfect harbinger for IP law reform. The labels in question saw this and decided not to pursue legal action against him over fear that if they took him to court his lawyers would appeal to higher courts and copyright law as we know it might change—possibly not in their favor. If that were to happen it would interfere with one of the industry’s biggest sources of revenue.

Five albums later Gregg is still getting away with mass infringement.

2. Terry Gilliam

Ok, full disclosure: Brazil is my favorite movie of all time, so I’m biased. Directed by former Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, Brazil came out in 1985 but was almost never released in the United States. Universal Studios Executive Sid Sheinberg felt the movie’s ending was too dark for an American audience and demanded that some major edits be made to create a happy ending. Gilliam refused.

Rather than consent to the studio’s wishes, Gilliam instead took out a full page add in Variety urging  Sid Sheinberg to release his film as it was intended to be seen. This caught the attention of the press and a series of private screenings to critics in L.A. without the studio’s permission. A short time later, much to the surprise of Universal, Brazil won “Best Picture” accolades from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, forcing the studio’s hand. Gilliam’s cut of the film was in theatres soon thereafter.   

3. David Geffen

David Geffen is one of the most legendary record executives in the history of the music business and is now a business mogul worth billions. His career started in the ‘60s in the mailroom of the William Morris Talent Agency but in short time he became a full-fledged talent agent there. David landed this job by claiming he had graduated from UCLA—even though he hadn’t. Not only that, he had barely graduated high school.

One day one of David’s coworkers got fired for lying on his resume. David exploited his position as a mailroom boy by intercepting the letter from UCLA outing his colleague and used it to forge a letter saying he had. But his scheming did not end there. He also read his bosses’ and coworker’s mail to gain an upper hand that abetted in his speedy advancement.

Geffen’s methods were morally, ethically, and legally questionable, but the results… well, let’s just say a few billion dollars can make a lot of problems disappear and soothe the ones that don’t.

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To be clear, I’m not suggesting that everyone should break all the rules all the time in order to make thing easier for themselves. The world would not be a better place if the streets were full of self-serving vigilantes. It’s important to pick your battles and recognize when it might be better to act first and ask questions later.

Some of these examples are a bit more ethical than others (cough, cough… looking at you, David Geffen), and I would always promote virtue over success, but sometimes it’s hard to argue with results.