Something I noticed, when I started posting podcasts to YouTube, is that copyright strikes come up automatically. Put in just a few seconds of any song, no matter how obscure, and YouTube will say the copyright owner made a claim. This is nonsense, of course, as no one could be policing this stuff and filing claims. The software scans the uploads for patterns matching something in their database. If the pattern is close enough to anything, then YouTube issues a copyright strike and puts the onus on you to dispute it.
I tested this by using some music I found on an old CD. It was from a cover band a million years ago. I took some clips and uploaded them with some talking by me. Sure enough, the clip got flagged for a copyright claim. The ridiculous part was the alleged claimant was another cover band. I tried a few more clips and no hits, but then a few more were flagged, with different claimants. The last batch of hits were completely wrong. It appears close enough is enough for them to make you go through the hassle of disputing it.
The game that YouTube is playing is both defensive and underhanded. By defaulting some copyright claim on everything, even vaguely similar to what they have in their database, they avoid being sued by legitimate copyright holders. That makes sense, given the nature of copyright laws. Of course, they’re also using this as an excuse to avoid paying creators for their work. YouTube loses money, so anything they can do to avoid paying creators drops right to their bottom line. They know most people will not dispute the claims.
That came to mind when I saw this on Drudge the other day.
Ed Sheeran is on the receiving end of a monster $100 million lawsuit by a company claiming the singer ripped off a Marvin Gaye classic.
A company called Structured Asset Sales filed the lawsuit, claiming Ed’s song, “Thinking Out Loud,” is a carbon copy of Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”
According to the lawsuit, Sheeran’s song has the same melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bassline, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping as “Let’s Get it On.”
Gaye’s song was written by a guy named Edward Townsend and Gaye in 1973. Townsend died in 2003, and Structured Asset Sales bought one third of the copyright. So, take that in … the claim is that just 1/3 of the song is worth $100 MIL!.
Sheeran’s song was a huge hit … nominated for a Grammy for Best Record, Best Performance and Song of the Year in 2016.
And, according to the docs, Ed’s single and the album it’s on — “X” — sold more than 15 million copies and the song has been played on YouTube more than a billion times.
Sheeran has already been sued by Townsend’s heirs. He called BS on that suit. No word if the Gaye family might also sue.
Now, I clicked on the story, because I was puzzled by why the estate of a long dead singer would be suing some goofy looking white kid. It turns out that the goofy looking white kid is a pop star of some note and he is accused of ripping off Marvin Gaye. It is another reminder that I am now completely disconnected from modern pop culture. Not in a million years would I have guessed that guy was a pop star. He looks like a dork you would see working in a cubicle. I did not find his music enjoyable, but what do I know?
Of course, the idea of making a copyright claim on something you give away, by posting on the internet, is a mockery of the law. It’s perfectly reasonable for a performer to complain about people ripping off their music and posting it on-line, but when the performer gives the content away, they should have no complaint. Not only that, a quick search of YouTube finds every Marvin Gaye song ever recorded, is posted multiple times. There’s even live stuff from the old days. Exactly no one is paying for Marvin Gaye music.
Listen to the songs in question and it is hard to see the similarities, at least not enough to support the claim. That’s not going to be an issue, because if it goes to court, both sides will have digital experts claiming the songs are digitally the same or different, according to each side. There are only so many possible song ditties, so by now every conceivable riff has been used in a song. Using software to compare songs, it’s possible to claim everything is derivative, if not a straight copy, of something else.
None of that matters. A battle of experts in front of a jury means a coin toss, so the case will be settled. It does not cost a lot to file the initial claim, but it does cost money to litigate these claims. Plus, the goofy white guy has his reputation being tarnished, so both sides have an incentive to settle. The estate of Marvin Gaye just wants money, so they will be happy to take a quiet payoff off, without the goofy white guy admitting to anything. That’s the whole point of these lawsuits. The whole thing is a form of greenmail.
Copyright abuse is a becoming a racket. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was intended to protect owners of digital content, but grifters have figured out how to game the system for all sorts of reasons. Video game companies will file DCMA notices against YouTubers, who post bad reviews. Hosting platforms slip language into their terms of service, to claim ownership of your content. Restaurants are suing reviewers for bad reviews. Of course, everyone can claim ownership of just about any digital content.
It is a good example of another negative outcome from the technological revolution. The ability to copy and distribute content digitally means it is easy to steal. That means people steal it. The normal way an owner protects his property is by locking it up, but in the case of digital content, that’s not possible, so the state has tried to create a magical solution, which just encourages grifters and racketeers. My guess is the legal fees for copyright issues are one of the biggest cost of producing pop songs now.
The unexpected result of the technological revolution is that large swaths of intellectual property have been inadvertently swept into the public domain. In an effort to return the profits to the private owners of the content, laws have been passed, but the result is all of the costs have been swept into the public domain. The definition of the technological revolution is the socializing of costs, with the privatization of profit. Technology makes it possible to shift costs a million small ways, onto an unsuspecting public.