Friday, February 12, 2010

Google vs. the music blogs

A few months after unleashing its music search feature, Google is in the music news again. Seems they've disappeared a few music blogs in response to violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Well, alleged violations, anyway. Says Devin Coldewey in Crunch Gear:
The sites in question were, of course, walking the line in terms of legality. MP3 blogs are scary to the music industry, because they represent such a challenge to the established promotional and sales flow. This is not the place for a whole argument about fair use, but I think most of what these blogs did would fall under that definition, woolly as it is. They hosted MP3s of artists they were discussing or promoting, but not whole albums. One of the bloggers notes that “everything I’ve posted for, let’s say, the past two years, has either been provided by a promotional company, came directly from the record label, or came directly from the artist.”
Full article here.

Technically speaking, Google has the right to do whatever it wants with the blogs it hosts. That doesn't make their decision the morally correct one. The actions they took present a perfect example of the draconian measures I've been talking about.

There are reasonable debates to be had over what intellectual property means in the digital age, and reasonable boundaries. It's not at all clear that the deleted blogs crossed the line, and the bloggers weren't given a chance to defend or change their actions before all their posts were deleted.

I've been trying to figure out how to post Cinder Bridge MP3s on this Google-hosted blog. Now I'm kind of afraid to. Who can predict whether the powers that be will notice or care that Cinder Bridge is MY BAND, and that I'm the copyright holder?

Because, let's face it: they're not trying to protect copyright holders like me. They're trying to protect a dying business model.


Three Chord Monty said...

They're covering their butts; they kind of have to, because their deals with content providers that allow YouTube to host unauthorized content are crucial to maintaining YouTube's value. How many videos of dancing kittens are people actually prepared to watch?

I can't blame them on this, frankly. If MP3s are made easily available, then someone downloading in this manner doesn't even have to go to the trouble of installing file-sharing software, where one can run into all sorts of problems--spyware & other malware, for instance.

I never saw why people who wanted to host MP3s without authorization on their blogs couldn't instead provide links to purchase sites that offer previews, such as Amazon, or the various subscription sites. There are all kinds of issues with the basic 'illegal downloading' discussion, many of which I've tried to address in your other posts...but this is one sure-fire way to eliminate a good deal of unauthorized downloading that I don't think Big Champagne monitors.

Last, I know I should do it on the actual post, but on one of the other ones I just saw, someone referred to illegal downloading as 'piracy' vs. 'theft.' It's not piracy, either. Piracy is more like counterfeiting, and involves, specifically, the manufacture of physical product, which is then sold in lieu of actual, authorized product. And while the sales of bootlegs constitute piracy as well, that word is also sometimes misused, since it's probably most commonly known as referring to unauthorized recordings of live shows and other recordings that are not officially released and therefore theoretically unavailable.

But when we use the term 'piracy,' I believe it would be most accurately aimed at large-scale operations in the Pacific Rim, typically involving organized crime. I'd say conflating this with kids in the West downloading is a misnomer.

cinderkeys said...

Only a partial response, but ...

* What deals with content providers are you referring to? When YouTube finds unauthorized material on the site, they take it down.

* I understand what you mean about barriers to entry, but as far as I know, the blogs in question weren't making hundreds of songs available at a time, or entire albums. Those kinds of sites feature maybe one song per post, with a review. They also may have been making content available with the permission of the artists.

* Why not send readers to a previewing site like Because a lot of them wouldn't bother. I wouldn't. Listening to an entire song is a lot more useful than listening to thirty seconds of one.

Bob said...

I see no easy answer to this one, but I couldn't agree more with your last line about the "dying business model." Right now, they're plugging holes in the dike.

Three Chord Monty said...

I don't have a source handy, sorry, but I do believe that YouTube entered into agreements with content providers such as UMG. It was certainly a fair argument that the site's value was due in no small part to music videos that were posted by people who were doing so without authorization. I think there was a period where any and all WMG content was stricly off-limits. And I think it's more a question of YouTube not 'finding' material and taking it down, but being specifically guided to it. I believe that a rights holder, as per the DMCA, has to specifically submit a request. Prior to the lawsuit involving the Prince song, YouTube would remove the content without question. Why waste time determining if a takedown notice was actually valid or not? But it was ruled that a baby dancing to 30 seconds of a Prince song did not constitute infringement, and I believe that takedown notices now have to be properly vetted, as they were apparently being misused by overzealous rights holders and their reps.

They do likely have filters to discern what might be infringing content, but come on. Even though major labels have established their own channels, what can't you find if you want it? That said, 3 years ago I started a thread on a music board with links to a dozen or so videos I had selected, mostly stuff that was rare, or obscure, or exotic, or mundane, depending on one's point of view. A year or so after that, a lot of them had been removed. I wonder if any of them have been restored. Or uploaded by other users after the legal issues worked themselves out.

One of the first videos that made people take notice of YouTube was the OK Go video with the treadmills. See the new OK Go video? EMI has disabled embedding, which was arguably a good part of why their video was able to be seen by so many in the first place. OK Go wrote an extremely bitter and angry post...

I'm sorry, I'm referring to things all over the place that I should have links for, but don't. I'm usually better prepared, but you know how it is with CFS/ME. I chose to respond without doing my legwork ahead of time. I'll try to follow up with links if I can.

I think one of the aspects of files being available to be anonymously downloaded from blogs that is worrisome to labels who have to pay that it's perhaps the biggest game of whack-a-mole that they've faced, even if the downloading isn't on the same scale, volume-wise, as torrents or file-sharing services. A lot tougher to monitor, a lot more involved to see to it that people aren't spreading their content without their permission.

I don't disagree necessarily with what you're saying about Amazon...but the argument that the promotional value of streaming files on the internet outweighs the likely financial loss incurred by the lack of a sale of physical product or even an MP3 file on iTunes is still raging. And, like a lot of these other music industry arguments, it's not one-size-fits-all. For some artists, their money is made from live performance and merchandising, and they don't see royalties anyway, so there's little downside to people acquiring their music for free--in fact, it may actually free up dollars for tickets or t-shirts or something else that actually benefits the artist. For others, there is no touring and no their position is going to be on the side of the labels.

And I think it's safe to say that the people, as a general group, that aren't going to bother with a 30 second clip...probably wouldn't have spent the money on the CD.

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Audio visual hire said...

As a music blogger I can understand that I may run the risk of going afoul of DMCA rules and regulations. But one of the big problems with Google's latest copyright sweep is that some of the banned blog operators say they are innocent.
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