from the not-how-it-works dept
Mitch Stoltz, over at EFF, has been writing about a ridiculous situation in which Sony Music has been using ContentID to take down fair use videos — and then to ask for money to put them back up. As Stoltz notes, the videos in question are clearly fair use. They’re videos of lectures put on by the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association, teaching people about bluegrass music. They’re hourlong lectures in a classroom setting, that do include snippets of music here and there as part of a lecture, with the music usually less than 30 seconds long.
HVBA’s use of clips from old bluegrass recordings is a clear fair use under copyright law. The clips are short, the purpose of the videos is educational, and the group does not earn money from its videos. Plus, no one is likely to forego buying the complete recordings simply because they heard a clip in the middle of an hour-long lecture.
Nonetheless, like so many others, HVBA had its videos disappear thanks to a ContentID match on some Sony music. Here’s where the story gets much worse than the standard version of this story. HVBA reached out to Sony Music, asking it to release the claim, but Sony Music demanded money, saying it was an “administrative” fee.
When HVBA’s webmaster emailed Sony Music to explain that the use of music clips in the lecture videos was fair use, Sony’s representative responded that the label had “a new company policy that uses such as yours be subject to a minimum $500 license fee,” and that “if you are going to upload more videos we are going to have to follow our protocol.” Sony’s representative didn’t say that she believed the video was not a fair use. Instead, she implied that even a fair use would require payment, and that Sony would keep using YouTube’s Content ID system against HVBA until they paid up.
As the EFF post notes, this highlights (yet again) what a dangerous disaster “notice and staydown” would be. It would open up the ability for shakedowns and censorship like what happened above.
Of course, once EFF publicized the story, Sony Music quickly backed down, but not everyone will be able to have their story told by EFF.
Even worse, even in backing down, Sony Music refused to concede the point, and indicated it still believed that fair use needed to be paid use.
A Sony executive emailed HVBA to say that the company “has decided to withdraw its objection to the use of its two sound recordings” and “will waive Sony Music’s administrat[ive] fee.” That sounds like Sony was simply acting out of courtesy, when in fact the company had no right to demand a fee, by any name, for an obvious fair use. Other YouTube users with less knowledge of the law may have been convinced to pay Sony $500 or more, and provide detailed information, for uses of the music that the law makes free to all.
It does make you wonder if Sony Music has been successful in charging this $500 fair use “administrative fee” to others, in a move that would be pure copyfraud.
Either way, imagine how copyright trolls would react to this kind of situation if it were more global on the internet with a mandated notice and staydown provision. We’ve already written about cases where people falsely claim copyright on works to get stuff taken down on other sites, but if there’s a way to not just censor with that, but also make money, you know it’s going to get widely abused. Hell, we’ve even had a similar situation here, where a small publication in another country (which does not have a fair use regime) sent us a letter objecting to our linking and quoting them without reaching “an agreement.” Giving more power to folks like that is a recipe for widespread censorship and shakedowns.