You know how supporters of Article 13 keep insisting it’s “for the artists?” Well, successful independent musician Dan Bull has just put out his latest song and video: Robocopyright, calling out all the ways in which Article 13 will harm him as a creator:
The key message: Article 13 and its requirement for filters (and, yes, it requires filters) will mean more gatekeepers, more censorship, and less freedom for creators. Algorithmic policing of content does not work as it cannot take into account context. It fails in both directions in blocking legit content and failing to block infringing content (which will only open up platforms to even greater liability). In short, to anyone who understands technology, it will be a huge mess.
Go watch it and then let the EU Parliament know not to pass Article 13.
Hopefully you know who singer Dan Bull is by now. We’ve written about him many times. He’s written and performed a bunch of songs about topics that we’re interested in (and recently composed the awesome new theme song for the Techdirt Podcast (which you do listen to, right?). Dan has been able to build a career around giving away his music, and letting others do stuff with it. But he keeps running into ridiculous issues with YouTube’s ContentID system. There was the time his video got silenced after another singer used the same sample he did, and then claimed the original work as his own. Or the time he got his video taken down because another rapper, Lord Finesse, was pissed off that Bull was criticizing Finesse’s lawsuit against yet another rapper, Mac Miller. While YouTube has been a key place where Bull has built his audience, his run-in’s with bogus claims and other problems even led him to write an entire diss track about ContentID.
And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s having yet more problems with it. As we’ve discussed, in the last few years, there’s been a rise in a new breed of trolls, known as ContentID trolls, who claim to hold the copyright in music that they don’t have copyright in, and then use ContentID to “monetize” other people using that work for themselves. There are a number of companies and middlemen that help them do this, including one called Horus Music, which has become the perfect tool for ContentID trolls. The trolls take someone else’s work, sign up with Horus, upload that other person’s music, claim it as their own, and then start making claims on other people’s videos. Free money.
That’s what just happened to Dan Bull — who actively encourages people to use and share his own music (over which he claims no copyright restrictions). A fan of Dan’s reached out to him, after a video he had made received a copyright claim, supposedly covering a song that the fan had used from Dan Bull. Bull reached out to Horus Music, telling them that its user, “DrewMCGoo72” was claiming copyright on other people’s music, and asked the company to investigate the situation, and to explain “how this happened, and what exact steps will be taken to prevent such a thing from occurring again.”
The company issued a weak apology, saying that the DrewMCGoo72 account had already been suspended but “this must have been missed.” And then they tell Dan (who encourages people to share his music) “It is a real shame that people feel that it is acceptable to steal someones music!” Except this isn’t about “stealing music.” This is about filing bogus copyright claims and claiming revenue or harming individuals who used music that they knew to be without copyright restrictions. Dan responded to Horus noting that he wasn’t satisfied with the company’s response:
Horus Music’s system has been exploited with the following results:
A) An anonymous stranger has walked away with revenue from fraudulently claiming my music as their own, facilitated by Horus Music
B) A child has received a copyright claim through Content ID from Horus Music and as a result has removed his 100% legitimate video out of fear of the consequences
C) I look like a hypocrite and a dick for telling kids they can use my music, and they then receive a copyright claim on their videos for using the very same music
You say you can only apologise – is an apology really all you are going to do?
Horus’ only response was that since the kid took down his original video, the company can’t do anything to release the claim “but I assume we aren’t claiming it any longer.”
It seems pretty clear that this is not the only time this has happened, since you can find other examples of Horus being used in this manner. This seems to raise a pretty serious question about how those companies are allowed to continue using the ContentID platform. After all, ContentID has a three strikes program for people who receive copyright violation claims. Why doesn’t it have a similar three strikes program for those who abuse ContentID to claim copyright over projects they have no right to?
Either way, we’ll leave you with Dan’s song about ContentID, as it seems only fitting:
Back in 2010 we wrote about rapper Dan Bull’s excellent “Death to ACTA” song and video, which is a parody of Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune.” In 2011, we further wrote about the MP3 of that song (which Bull distributes willingly on file sharing platforms) being taken down from Mediafire due to a questionable takedown request. Now, years later (well after ACTA is pretty much long dead), Dan’s discovered that his video on YouTube was just silenced due to copyright claims.
He wondered what it was about and discovered two claims on the video — one being ridiculous, with the other being merely questionable.
The ridiculous one is the claim about Bigg Brass’s song, “Death of Fake Rapperz”. That one, like Dan’s, uses the backing track from Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune.” The actual track that Jay-Z sampled is “In the Space” by Janko Nilovic and Dave Sarkys. It’s likely that Jay-Z licensed that track (though he’s run into legal trouble at times for failing to license some tracks). If anyone would have a claim over Bull’s track then, it would likely be those guys. Here, it appears that Bigg Brass is working with the big digital distributor, The Orchard, who didn’t even bother to figure out that Bigg Brass was using a sample of his own and just went hog wild stupidly going after others’ music. The Universal Music Group claim is slightly more reasonable, but only slightly. Again, the actual music is not Jay-Z’s but Nilovic’s and Sarkys’ and they don’t appear to be the ones complaining.
At the same time Jay-Z has been quite public about his support for artists remixing his tracks into other songs saying that he’s “honored” when it’s done. It may be that Jay-Z doesn’t hold the copyright for DoA, but even so… it seems like a pretty weak claim to go after Dan Bull. And, of course, you can find a ton of other videos that use the same backing track for their own songs. Here’s one. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And there are a lot more. I’m just getting tired of cutting and pasting.
And none of those other ones are silenced.
Just Dan’s. It almost makes you wonder if Universal Music has… a political reason for trying to silence Dan’s songs, such as the fact that it mocks an international agreement that the recording industry was highly supportive of. And they say copyright isn’t used to censor free speech…
YouTube’s ContentID is receiving an awful lot of well-deserved criticism lately, and the company — true to unfortunate form — still doesn’t seem to realize that it should (a) fix its broken program and (b) actually respond to the criticism. YouTube seems to think that the issue will blow over, but every time there’s another bogus takedown/copyright claim, things seem to get worse. The fact that it’s allowing major labels to claim the revenue of independent artists is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
In the meantime, many of the people who have built careers off of YouTube are now speaking out against ContentID as well. Dan Bull, who we’ve written about many times before, has put up his latest video, entitled, simply FUCK CONTENT ID, and it calls out the company for taking money from independent creators and handing it over to whoever claims the copyright with no legitimate basis (amusingly, Dan also mocks YouTube’s “copyright free audio library” which he uses as the base of his song).
There are elements of ContentID that are certainly useful, but since the program has been introduced, it’s been plagued with serious problems, providing way too much power to those who make bogus claims. It feels, unfortunately, like YouTube has gotten increasingly complacent on this issue because it has (by far) the majority market share on amateur videos. But things change, and if it continues to make it difficult for content creators, they’re going to go elsewhere. And, yes, YouTube is getting hit from both sides on this issue, as it’s still fighting its lawsuit with Viacom that claimed that the company didn’t do enough to stop infringement. But now the problem seems to be that it defers so easily to claims of infringement that people creating their own content are having it “monetized” by big companies based on nothing. That’s not the right solution at all.
We’ve had a few posts now about UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s nutty idea to censor the internet with an unworkable porn filter (complete with a “porn license” so that if you want to get around the filter, you have to “register” your desire not to be censored). Of course, this all makes perfect fodder for musician Dan Bull, whose music we’ve featured plenty of times. His specialty areas tend to be songs about politicians, internet freedom and video games. This one hits on two of the three, so here he is with his open letter to David Cameron, the Porn Minister.
Dan Bull, whose music we’ve featured on Techdirt many times, has put together a song as a tribute to Aaron Swartz, entitled We Are All Aaron Swartz. It’s short and sweet but makes the two key points: the loss of Aaron is terrible for the world, but also that the burden is now on the rest of us to continue Aaron’s work.
We’ve covered how Lord Finesse and his lawyers appear to be using copyright to stifle criticism of Finesse’s lawsuit against Mac Miller, and how Dan Bull was speaking out against that kind of censorship. It’s been quite clear that Finesse’s main reason for issuing the takedown was to stifle the criticism, since tons of videos using the same beat remain online — including Mac Miller’s.
But, of course, as we’ve learned over the years, when you try to stifle free speech online, a funny thing happens. It seems that plenty of people aren’t at all happy about Lord Finesse’s attempt to silence Dan Bull, and they’re re-uploading copies of the video by the dozen. At the time I’m writing this, there are well over 100 other copies of the video uploaded. Here’s just a sampling of what the search results look like:
Might have been wiser to have just kept quiet about the damn thing. By taking it down, Finesse has now called a hell of a lot more attention to Dan Bull’s rather important criticism of his actions.
On Friday, we wrote about the ridiculous situation in which Lord Finesse issued a takedown for Dan Bull’s video that was critical of Finesse’s lawsuit against Mac Miller. Over the weekend, Dan decided to do a “documentary” style video about the situation, entitled CENSORED BY COPYRIGHT. It’s eight minutes, and worth watching in its entirety:
It does a good job laying out both the legal (fair use, fair dealing) and moral (culture, the nature of hip-hop building on itself) reasons for why Dan believes he’s in the right. But it also highlights the chilling effects at play. Dan can put in a counterclaim, but if he does so he risks (1) a lawsuit from Finesse and (2) losing his entire YouTube channel, with which he’s spent years building a massive following… and (1) is not a particularly far-fetched threat, given that Finesse did, in fact, just sue Mac Miller for $10 million. Clearly, he’s got lawyers and he’s not afraid to use them.
In the meantime, Lord Finesse posted something on his own Facebook account, implying that Dan Bull has no fair use claim, because he has ads on his YouTube channel. Of course, that’s not quite how fair use works. While the fact that Dan might make some money could play into whether or not it’s fair use, the fact that you monetize your work does not automatically mean you lose fair use protections. As Dan notes in his own comment, news organizations — magazines, newspaper, TV news and radio — are all for-profit ventures, and are probably the biggest users of fair use. What Dan was doing here was providing commentary on the news in the same way that a news program or magazine might.
So while Finesse claims that “there’s a difference” between presenting an opinion and making money on ads, that’s hard to square with reality, where lots of people make money while also presenting their opinions.
Yesterday we wrote about rapper Lord Finesse suing fellow rapper Mac Miller because Miller released a free song that used the same beat that Finesse used (which was itself based on a sample from jazz musician Oscar Peterson). Miller, of course, has become a phenom, being the first indie artist to top the charts with a new release in over a decade. The song in question, Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza, wasn’t on Miller’s album, but was just released for free online, and uses the same beat from Finesse’s 90’s era hit Hip 2 Da Game. And now Finesse is suing for $10 million.
In our post on the subject, we pointed to a song that Dan Bull put together, using the same beat, but as commentary/parody of this legal fight. The song highlights how hip-hop has a long history of building on the works of others, and does a nice job laying out the history with Oscar Peterson’s sample being used first. And… this morning Dan Bull logged into his YouTube account to discover that Finesse’s lawyers had issued a takedown on his song.
This is a clear abuse of copyright law to stifle criticism of his lawsuit. First of all, it’s not at all difficult to find a lot of other songs that use the same beat with people rapping their own lyrics over them… and they all have been left up (and have been up for a while). Here are just a couple examples — both of which have been up for over a year. And, oh yeah, even Mac Miller’s own version is still up on YouTube. So basically, either Finesse and his lawyers just so happened to take down the one video that is critical of the lawsuit… or they’re using copyright to stifle criticism and free speech.
Furthermore, it seems like there’s as pretty strong argument for fair use (or fair dealing in the UK) for Dan’s video. It’s clearly using the music to comment on the lawsuit and the fact that it involves this beat. It’s difficult to discuss the nature of the beat without actually being able to use the beat, as Dan did. In many ways this seems like a classic case of what fair use/fair dealing was designed for. The beat is integral to the criticism and commentary that is the whole point of the song, and is used out of necessity.
Of course, even more amusing is that the entire point of Bull’s song was to tell Finesse just how bad legal action like his lawsuit against Miller really looks — and instead of getting the message, it appears that Finesse and his lawyers want to look even worse, using the same sort of “copyright as censorship” effort that made Bull call them out in the first place.
Okay, this one is just crazy. You hopefully already know about Mac Miller. We wrote about him last year, as he was the first truly independent artist to release an album that topped the charts in over a decade. Historically, the charts are absolutely dominated by major label acts, because the major labels pay millions of dollars to “break” a record. Of course, part of how Miller became so famous is the same way tons of new hip-hop stars are rising up: by releasing free mixtapes. Even as some folks insist that giving away music means no new rap stars, you can make a pretty big list of new rap stars who came on the scene by releasing music for free — and Mac Miller did it better than just about anyone. In fact, a few months ago, I was talking to a big time record label guy (very closely associated with the RIAA), who told me that Mac Miller debuting at number one was one of the three biggest stories of 2011, and showed that the industry was really about to embrace new models.
And, of course, it’s quite common for those mixtapes to involve some sort of infringement, but generally no one has a problem with this (unless you’re clueless legacy entertainment industry players), especially since these mixtapes are all given away for free, and generally do help promote those other works. It’s really become the “new radio” in hip hop.
But there’s always someone who lets jealousy get in the way. That appears to be the case with Robert Hall, better known as the rapper Loud Finesse, who had a hit in 1995 called “Hip 2 Da Game.” You may remember it:
It turns out that one of the songs Mac Miller released for his mixtape was called Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza, which has him rapping over the same music track:
The lyrics are entirely different, but the music is obviously the same.
Note, again, that this song was given away for free in a YouTube video and mixtape. It was never sold. It’s not on Miller’s album. But, jealousy rears its ugly head and Lord Finesse has now sued Miller and his label, Rostrum, and the popular mixtape site DatPiff.comfor $10 million — and the fact that this is all about jealousy is pretty clear from the details of the lawsuit. It points out that Miller got famous, in part, because of his mixtape and thus Finesse seems to think that Miller needs to pay him for getting famous. Once again, he’s being sued for $10 million, because of a song which he never sold.
Of course, if you know anything at all about hip hop, you know that its roots came from rappers building on the works of others, taking rhythms and beats and putting new lyrics over them. What many consider to be the very first popular hip hop song, “Rapper’s Delight,” by the Sugarhill Gang, came about when they rapped over “Good Times” by Chic.
So, you might wonder, does Lord Finesse have a history of building on the works of others? Glad you asked. Why yes, he does. He’s widely sampled other artists. Oh, and the music in Hip 2 Da Game? You guessed it. Sampled. It’s from Oscar Peterson’s excellent jazz song, “Dream of You.” Tragically, there doesn’t seem to be a YouTube version of that up, but if you have Spotify, you can listen to it here:
Hip hop artist/commentator on culture and copyright, Dan Bull, found this whole situation pretty ridiculous and decided to do what he does best: write and perform a song about it. And, better yet, he did so using the same musical backing track from Finesse… er… Peterson.
This is actually interesting at a variety of levels (and equally unfortunate at a number of levels). The mixtape culture and building on the works of others is really pretty core to the hip hop world. There’s a mostly unspoken agreement just within the culture that as long as you’re not selling the tracks, it’s encouraged to take the rhythms from another and build on it. Going against those social norms which have been pretty strongly developed over the past decade plus, is really hitting back against the basic rules that the community has established for itself, outside of what copyright allows.
In fact, the hip hop mixtape/blog world has been fascinating to watch over the past few years, in part because it actually shows how cultural norms can often set the rules for how these things work, without having to fall back on copyright laws at all. Basic social pressure can often keep most people in line. But when one breaks those social norms — whether because of jealousy, or because they think there’s a quick profit to be earned — it can come back to haunt them.
That said, there’s actually an interesting tie-in to another story we wrote about recently, discussing innovation vs. permission as frameworks for how progress should occur. While we were mostly talking about technology/entrepreneurial innovation, it clearly applies to creativity as well. All sorts of music creations came about because of innovation without permission. Soul music, jazz music, hip-hop and rock-and-roll all exist basically because of people deciding to innovate by building on the works of someone else without permission. Trying to shove a permission based system into that creates massive chilling effects and limits the kind of great music that can be created. Copyright is supposed to be about promoting progress, and yet, once again, it’s used to hold it back.