from the really. everyone. stop it. dept
This is one of those frustrating stories where basically everyone’s wrong about everything. Here’s how it started: Just prior to Ajit Pai’s FCC officially dumping net neutrality rules last week, the Daily Caller released a video with Pai. Pai seems to have a way of not realizing just how incredibly unfunny, tone-deaf and cringeworthy his “jokes” are — but it doesn’t stop him from trying again. If you somehow missed it, you can see the video here:
The video is bad and dumb and misleading and, yes, very, very cringeworthy. The pure awfulness of the video is what got people worked up initially, with Pai’s supporters gleefully laughing at Pai’s opponents for getting upset about it. If you can’t see it for some reason, it involves Pai claiming that nothing is going to change on the internet following his bad decision to kill the FCC’s net neutrality rules, and then attempts to show some examples: posting images of food and dogs to the internet, doing some online shopping, being a dorky Star Wars fan and, finally, “ruining a meme.”
That meme? The Harlem Shake. If you were online in 2013, you almost certainly remember it. Because it was everywhere. For a couple months or so, everyone on the internet seemed to feel it was their obligation to create a video showing people crazy dancing to a snippet of the song “Harlem Shake” by “Baauer” the stage name of a music producer named Harry Rodrigues. The song, the Harlem Shake uses a sample from another song, Miller Time, by Philadelphia’s Plastic Little. Also, the “con los terroristas” line was sampled from a singer named Hector Delgado.
Back in 2013, we actually had a few stories about copyright issues around the whole Harlem Shake phenomenon. First, we noted that Baauer and his label, Mad Decent, seemed to have engaged in selective enforcement of whatever copyright they might have held on the song. They left most videos live on, but did take down some from people they disagreed with. We also noted that the whole meme went viral not for anything that Baauer actually did, but because of the first few videomakers whose crazy videos turned it into a thing. Finally, we noted that Delgado and Plastic Little were demanding their cut as well.
And, of course, we should note that the whole Harlem Shake meme came and went pretty fast. I mean days after it went big, it was already declared dead. And, yes, this was part of the lame Pai joke.
Onto outrage two: soon after everyone was complaining about how awful (and inappropriate) this video was, some people noticed that one of the women dancing in the Ajit Pai Harlem Shake video… was a conspiracy theorist Pizzagater. Which, you know, is not really a good look for the freaking Chairman of the FCC (especially while making fun of people who are concerned about the future of the internet).
Outrage three: we’re back to copyright. Baauer tweeted angrily that he supported net neutrality and was “taking action” saying “whatever I can do to stop this loser.”
I'm Taking action. Whatever I can do to stop this loser https://t.co/Ajo6wBATdF
— Aa (@baauer) December 14, 2017
He also gave a statement to Billboard:
“The use of my song in this video obviously comes as a surprise to me as it was just brought to my attention. I want to be clear that it was used completely without my consent or council. My team and I are currently exploring every single avenue available to get it taken down. I support Net Neutrality like the vast majority of this country and am appalled to be associated with its repeal in anyway.”
So, let’s be clear why this is also bad. The use here is obviously fair use. In the past we argued that all of the Harlem Shake videos were likely fair use, but the case with the Pai video is even stronger. It’s clearly a parody in making fun of the song’s use in the old dead meme, and parody is non-infringing as fair use. If there was a lawsuit, Pai/FCC/Daily Caller would win. Furthermore, it appears that Baauer is basically trying to assert a sort of “moral” right into copyright that doesn’t exist under US law. Moral rights, which are available in other countries (and only on limited works in the US — but not music) allow an artist to block an otherwise legal usage by saying they don’t want to be associated with it. But not in the US.
Indeed, Baauer seems to be admitting his intent to misuse copyright to silence speech he doesn’t like. That’s bad. Even if I agree that Pai’s video is awful and his effort to destroy net neutrality is terrible, that still doesn’t make it right to abuse copyright law to silence speech.
But… that didn’t stop Baauer’s label, Mad Decent, from going ahead and issuing a takedown and promising to sue if the video was not removed:
Official statement re the use of "Harlem Shake" in Daily Caller's video of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: neither Mad Decent nor Baauer approved this use nor do we approve of the message contained therein. We have issued a takedown will pursue further legal action if it is not removed.
— MAD DECENT (@maddecent) December 15, 2017
And, indeed, as with basically any YouTube takedown, the company took the video down:
There were many people who are quite rightly upset at Pai’s killing of net neutrality who then quite wrongly cheered on this takedown. It may be fun to see someone you dislike have their speech silenced through abusive copyright takedowns, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. No matter how much you disagree with Pai (and we disagree with him around here quite a lot), pulling down his video over a copyright claim is clearly bad.
And that takes us to outrage four: The Daily Caller then totally flips its lid with laughable conspiracy theories about how YouTube only took the video down because Google supports net neutrality and wanted to silence Ajit Pai.
YouTube’s targeting of Daily Caller content and its willingness to remove our video for political purposes while millions of other uses are allowed to remain on the platform should stand as a terrifying prospect for every American.
Except that’s ridiculous. YouTube takes down tons of videos when it receives a DMCA notice. Indeed, the web is filled with examples of YouTube taking down videos that should be protected by fair use. That’s why users can counterclaim and say that it’s fair use. And YouTube is pretty good about responding to such fair use counterclaims and getting the video back up. Which is what happened here. But, the Daily Caller insists the video only was put back up because it’s big and has lots of influence (feel free to debate both of those points if you’d like).
There’s still a possible future outrage: if Mad Decent and/or Baauer actually sue over it, which hopefully any reasonable lawyer will talk them out of doing.
So, again, everyone and everything in this story is awful. Pai’s video is dumb, misleading, cringeworthy and awful. Pai’s actions around net neutrality are awful. Pai cavorting with a conspiracy theorist is awful. Baauer and Mad Decent freaking out over obvious fair use of their song is awful. Mad Decent issuing a bullshit takedown is awful. YouTube complying with the takedown is awful. And the Daily Caller stupidly assuming the compliance with the takedown is for political reasons, rather than standard operating procedure for DMCA takedowns is awful.
In short: it’s all awful. Horribly awful.
The FCC shouldn’t be killing net neutrality. The chairman of the FCC shouldn’t be making awful, misleading videos with nutty conspiracy theorists mocking the vast majority of the American public who disagree with his stupid plan. And he shouldn’t include four year old memes, even if it’s to parody old memes, because, really, let the fucking memes die. The people who got rich off the memes shouldn’t then abuse copyright law to try to censor speech they don’t like. And the people who made the stupid, awful video in the first place, shouldn’t leap to laughable conclusions about why their video got taken down.
And I feel like I should end this post with “… and get off my lawn,” though I’d much prefer that we live in a world where we weren’t having competing narratives over censorship, where the internet remained open and free and non-discriminatory, and bogus copyright takedowns didn’t take down expressive content, no matter how dumb it might be. Tragically, we’re not there yet.