So you're a make-up artist who likes to do tutorial videos with some cool EDM in the background. You reach out to the appropriate artists and labels to make sure that this is acceptable, but out of nowhere you get slapped with a lawsuit from a major label. That is exactly what happened to YouTube sensation Michelle Phan this week when Ultra Records filed a lawsuit accusing her of copyright infringement.
Everyone is talking about this online, as many, both in the industry and out of it, are worried about the consequences of posting music online. Over on the DJTechTools site, a tutorial video demonstrated the programs MixEmergency and Traktor using the underground house track "Walking With Elephants" by producer Ten Walls. Record label Material Music demanded the site pay a licensing fee, and when an agreement wasn't reached they filed a complaint with YouTube. As a result, YouTube cancelled all the DJTT in-video blog links. For such a respected website that fosters a strong DJ community, this 'one strike and you're out' rule seems seems both draconian and short-sighted. Reading the comments of site followers, it seems obvious that Material Music has alienated the DJ community against the artist Ten Walls, who may or may not have had Any say in the matter.
And on the subject of alienating DJs, Soundcloud is widely used to share mixed sets and mashups. While no one is allowed to post copywritten material without permission, aside from the occasional removal it has been the de facto standard. All that has changed since Universal Records was given direct removal access. This means if Universal suspects one of their tracks is used or sampled, they can remove the material in question with no reporting or recourse.
In the past, the person posting on the site would be notified what the violation was. This is no longer the case- as reported by Do Androids Dance, since not even the people at Soundcloud know why Universal does what they do. Claims of favorable treatment of larger radio stations and artists are also popping up, and rightfully so. If Universal and Soundcloud have entered into an exclusive business arrangement, then other labels should be concerned about their own material being wrongfully removed. Even worse is the position independent artists find themselves in, where their own material is subject to the unaccountable whims of Universal.
What does that mean to us - music lovers and DJs? For one thing, it means the way that we experience music is going to be more streamlined and homogenized. Combined with the dreaded effects of the shredding of net neutrality by corporate money and the Congresspersons they employ, it looks like the goal is to make the web into a playground for the big corporations to control what and how you hear things. That may sound neurotic or dystopic, but when you realized how much the major labels and big companies like Apple fought against Spotify coming to the US, it doesn't seem too far off.
A good example of what to look for is what's happened in the film industry, where in just a few years the vast majority of screens around the world have become digital delivery points, with the distributing studio having absolute control over when and where their film is shown, even being able to shut a film down mid-screening.
One thing is for sure, the only way to protect yourself from costly lawsuits is to make sure that before you post anything online that you get written permission, approval, and/or licensing from the artist, producer, label, and publisher. As of now, there simply aren't any protections or precedents for DJs, so protect yourself.