Last month, the music and podcasting community began to contemplate the future of distributing our works after rumours circulated that SoundCloud was going bankrupt. The financial stability of the company is still rather ambiguous as information comes out on deep financial cuts and layoffs within, alongside news of a bright future for the site (the latter coming mostly from the powers that be suspiciously close to investor meetings). Given that even major plug-in companies like Waves and iZotope were giving instructions on Facebook on how to secure your uploads so that they could be safely moved to another platform (why don’t you have the original files? Curses!), the future of SoundCloud looked (and continues to look) grim. The constant barrage of likes, follows and reposts from the spam and porn accounts that infest the site isn’t helping their image either.
In an effort to keep my recordings streaming on my own website for fans, potential students, venues and collaborators to hear, I decided to put my entire focus on my existing Bandcamp page which, up until this time, had only been another resource to host my three albums alongside CD Baby. This was a task that took a single afternoon to accomplish, mostly in creating album images for each of the portfolio playlists as I already had the audio files in .wav format at 48kHz so that I could also add them as "art tracks" on YouTube.
A few weeks ago, you may have read a post on my blog about subscribing to my YouTube channel and how all my music would be there for primary (free) distribution. You may have even seen how YouTube playlists had replaced the Bandcamp ones around that time within my portfolio. Well, as you can see now, it’s all back on good ol’ Bandcamp and I plan on keeping it that way. Why? Well sit down, because it’s story time with Uncle Mike.
After creating video files with all of my pre-prepared audio in Premiere, and the exhaustive task of exporting them on an aging iMac that can barely run properly for the basics, let alone video rendering, I began the long task of uploading them to YouTube, arranging them in playlists, adding tags and descriptions, you know, the same thing that every gamer on there has someone else do for them so they can focus on creating content and not metadata. This took a good week due to the constant input of information for each track, adjusting the settings on a track-by-track basis, dealing with the occasional glitched export, etc. When everything was finished, I added the YouTube playlists to my site and looked over at all my hard work, and noticed numerous copyright claims.
The Content ID system on YouTube is notoriously flawed and with classical music, it often falsely flags your own version of a piece as that of a major label’s upload. I also had claims on selected tracks from my EP, Earwig Rising, though that was due to my own copyright and only meant that any ads that played on them would be revenue for me regardless. No big deal. I filed disputes on the three classical videos that had been claimed, explaining that the Mozart recording is mine and the music itself is in the Public Domain, and then on the two Satie tracks that were hit, I explained in detail that I owned the sound recordings, performances and audio productions on them, and that they were copyrighted by the US Copyright Office under the Registration Number: SRu 1-194-109.
The claim on the Mozart track was dropped within a week. The first Satie track, claimed by UMG for Universal Music, had the dispute ignored and would likely have expired after 30 days. However, SME, on behalf of Sony Classical, actually rejected my dispute one day shy of the claim terminating due to a lack of response by the claimant and then counterclaimed, saying that my Registration Number was not proof of copyright and that they owned that particular track and had the rights to monetize it. This is when it went insane.
To reject a dispute, a physical, living person has to read the response and manually dismiss it. Someone read my protest, the included Registration Number, the link to the Library of Congress file that holds the information in regards to my copyright online, and the ISRC code that I gave for the track and still decided “No, that’s ours.” and sent me on my way despite the overwhelming proof to the contrary.
I filed an appeal, and Sony Classical threatened litigation against me for copyright infringement if I didn’t comply with their orders. That’s total BS. I gave them everything I had to legally prove my ownership of the track, and they were vehemently rejecting it, hoping to get a few more pennies in their coffers rather than admit that a Public Domain piece of music can be recorded and copyrighted by artists that are not on their label. Sony Classical was, at this point, committing copyright infringement against me as well as committing a crime known as “monetize without consent.” It’s just what it sounds like.
I had to ask for help from CD Baby as they published the record, the AFM since I’m a union member, as well as issuing notarized legal complaints to YouTube by mail and fax (you try looking up information like that), and to Sony Classical via email. None of them responded.
I had a lawyer contact the companies with the threat of filing litigation against them for infringing on my copyright, but YouTube merely sent an email back with a special dispute email to reach SME by (and it’s some crappy Gmail address, you’d think a major label would have the money to have a domain based email, even I have one!) and said they do not mitigate copyright issues before signing off for good on the matter.
We filed a notice to SME through the email address we were provided with. We gave them 10 business days to comply with our order to remove their claim and illegal monetization of my copyrighted work alongside a scanned image of my Certificate of Registration:
Personal information redacted.
They didn’t respond until the last possible day, and rather than a professional reply and apology for these criminal actions, they spouted off about how our legal notices were a form of harassment and that I was stealing work that one of their artists had made (they never gave a name because it's my property and not theirs) and that this would be the last they would hear of it. The next day, my track was deleted and I had a copyright strike issued against my YouTube account.
This was the most unprofessional experience I have ever had with a major company, both with YouTube and Sony Classical. Everyone in the AFM and with CD Baby, as well as my lawyer of course, said it was blatantly clear that Sony Classical was in the wrong and that I had more than sufficient evidence to support my ownership of that track. But because money talks, SME was able to profit off of my work for over 30 days without my permission, and then shoved a hickory stick up my bottom when they realized I wasn’t going to back down.
This is why so many new artists don’t want affiliation with major labels. They can steal from indie musicians under false pretense and have the power to win, even with plenty of evidence to prove them wrong. You want to take them to court? Good, they have the cash to sit on a case like that, delaying it and holding you back until you are bankrupt and are forced to withdraw the suit entirely. If you want to try, make sure you come from old money first.
I will keep my YouTube account as a user, but I’ll be damned before I ever upload any content there again. Oh, and because I was hit with a copyright strike, I had to sit through a patronizing Happy Tree Friends video on copyright infringement and pass a test on it. When I was the proven copyright holder from the beginning. (And you can’t tell me that Mondo Media made that YouTube Copyright School video willingly, they’re better than that.)
As I wrote on Twitter in the aftermath of all this, to hell with YouTube. They hold average users to insane requirements for advertiser friendly content, claim fair use content (such as film critiques) are infringement on a regular basis, and sometimes just delete your channel for no reason. But if you’re a major corporation you can infringe on someone else’s copyright and they’ll take the side with the bigger dollars every time. Just look where I am.
You can follow me on Bandcamp: mikesmale.bandcamp.com.