YouTube and Its Discontents

The Small-time Songwriter vs. the Corporate Copyright Troll

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So here’s a copyright trolls update: if you’ve been following the adventures of yours truly and Itching Powder Music (BMI) you’ll recall that I recently got a YouTube copyright claim from SONY ATV (the publishing arm of SONY) against my song “What Do You Want?” featured in the live video of MTX in Southampton UK, 1992.

I joked at the time that SONY would not be stupid enough to release such a song, remember? It’s a crazy song that no major label or publisher would touch with a barge pole. That’s my specialty. Songs like that, I mean.

One funny thing about this YouTube process is, you don’t get to see which song the claimant believes (or affects to believe) you are infringing till you’ve filed your dispute and they have rejected it. It is only at that point that you get a response that includes any actual information, i.e., a list of songwriters of the song they are claiming to own. That’s all they give you, but it’s enough to google it and figure out which song they say they think yours is ripping off, and the results can be pretty funny.

In the case of the previous Warner Chappell claim on my song “Here She Comes”:

They thought (or pretended to think) that my “Here She Comes” was the same song as a 1965 soul song recorded by a band called the Tymes:

Same title, it’s true. Different song, quite clearly.

I followed the process after the intial rejected dispute, filed appeals (despite the frightening warning that if the appeal was rejected I would get a copyright strike and run the risk of having my whole channel, not to say my very self, erased.) Warner Chappell finally released their claim. I expect that was at the point at which an actual human finally looked at the whole thing and realized: “dude, this isn’t even the same song…”

To which the robot who identified my punk rock “Here She Comes” as a 1965 Northern Soul song shrugged his robot shoulders and replied: “I don’t know what to tell you, Master; that’s what you programmed me to do.”

“Indeed,” said our Warner Chappell admin. “Let’s try this again. New protocol. Go out there and see if you can find some other song with the title ‘Here She Comes’ that is not owned by us but whose owner might be less likely to file a dispute. Not like this Dr Frank. I’m sick of this guy. He sucks.”

“Your wish is my command, Master,” said the robot, bustling off.

(A subsequent attempt to claim “At Gilman Street” didn’t stick. And unfortunately in that case, the claim was released before I ever got to find out which mid-sixties Northern Soul song our poor robot thought he’d found in my silly little ironic punk rock anthem.)

Anyhow, here’s another case of same title, wrong song, and it’s even funnier.

SONY ATV thinks the song performed in the MTX live “What Do You Want?” video is this:

That would be “What Do You Want?” performed by Joy Enriquez, written by Beyonce Knowles, Steve Morales, and David Siegel.

Let’s listen to the Mr T Experience, now, “What Do You Want?” © and (p) Dr Frank, Itching Powder Music (BMI) as it appears on the 1992 Lookout Records album Milk Milk Lemonade:

It’s… not the same song. I listened to the whole thing just to make sure. At no point does the Beyonce-penned song reference delicious blue cream sodas. At no point does Joy Enriquez proclaim that she is in love with leather, or lethargy. They’re different songs. I checked. This is the same evidence I provided in my dispute, by the way, the one that was rejected:

They decided their own claim is still valid, did they? After “reviewing my dispute,” you say? Didja listen to the songs? Try playing my “What Do You Want?” in a dance club, see what happens: maybe that’d be a better test. Something’s amiss in this system.

But if the title is indeed enough to establish copyright (which it’s not) then *I* wrote the Beyonce song, because I did it first. 1992 vs. 2001. Do the math. I’ll take the monetization for all your YouTube videos and you can make out the remedial royalty check to Dr Frank, good lady. Just following your own robot logic, SONY.

Two points to keep in mind here.

[1] In YouTube’s system the authority to decide whose claim is valid is entirely vested in the entity filing the claim (that is SONY, in this case.) What happened here is that they (SONY) rejected my dispute. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? What do they have to lose? Absolutely nothing. They might as well claim whatever they want. They might as well claim literally everything.

It’s a nuisance at best. But I think this procedure, which appears to be a new tack, and which also seems to have expanded exponentially of late, is also a pretty clear abuse of the process. Which is, after all, it is claimed, meant to protect copyright holders. Which is what I am. I just don’t happen to be published by SONY or Warner Chappell, as they seem to assume everybody must be.

YouTube should suspend SONY and Warner Chappell if they keep this up. That is, they should remove their power to use automated claims in this way. Claimants should be required to document their claims from the beginning rather than just make them with no basis. Otherwise they’ll just keep doing it. It’s irritating. And it’s wrong.

[2] This identification is clearly based on the title alone (which is a terrible way to do copyright checks — there are thousands of songs that share the same title.) But these claims also are allegedly based on CONTENT_ID, which is, if I understand it properly, supposed to do audio matches between music appearing in videos and a database of audio files. There is nothing remotely “matching” in these two songs as even a robot should be able to discern.

Here’s what YouTube says about CONTENT_ID:

How Content ID works

Copyright owners can use a system called Content ID to easily identify and manage their content on YouTube. Videos uploaded to YouTube are scanned against a database of files that have been submitted to us by content owners.

Well, from this experience I can only conclude that either (a) CONTENT_ID doesn’t work; or (b) that scanning audio in videos against a database of audio files is actually not what it does. If (b), what is it doing, exactly? If (b) it seems like maybe it’s a pretext for these automated gobble-up content campaigns from Big Publishing. I can’t think of any other reason for it to be there, if it doesn’t actually try to match audio. And if it just goes off the title? They should be honest and call it TITLE_ID. At least then it’d be clear what’s going on.

As I’ve said before, this is not a matter of money to a guy like me. Trust me, there’s no money whatsoever in songs on the internet, or just, generally. Spotify pays a pittance hardly worth the name pittance, that you never even notice, that is just slightly better than a kick in the teeth.

And YouTube doesn’t allow small channels like mine to monetize anything at all. (They used to allow it. Then the Adpocalypse happened and the small fry were thrown under the bus. I mean, I’m used to getting thrown under the bus. But what it means is, I can’t get ad revenue for my own channel for stuff that I clearly legitimately own; meanwhile SONY and Warner Chappell can claim my stuff as theirs, and those claims stand by default in absence of a successful appeal, which they, the corporations making the claim, are in charge of adjudicating. What they’re trying to do is colonize my content and run ads on it so they get the money from it rather than me. It’s not very much money, which is why YouTube doesn’t think it’s a big deal to shut out small channels from monetization. But if you scale up to millions of songs, it could wind up being real money, maybe. That is presumably why they’re doing it. And if so, whatever sum it may be, tiny as it undoubtedly is, SONY and Warner Chappell shouldn’t be getting it, even my tiny, invisible-to-the-naked-eye sliver of it.)

So it’s not, can’t be, money. It is solely a matter of what is right, as a kind of philosophical thing. I have written lots of songs. I spend lots of time on them. (Well, some of them, anyway — I wouldn’t necessary class “What Do You Want?” as my finest hour.) Even if I don’t make one cent from them (which I won’t basically) they’re still mine.

And SONY and Warner Chappell and their robots shouldn’t be going around trying to claim them for Beyonce or whomever, just because it’s easiest for them to gobble up huge chunks of everything and let little guys like me file our pathetic disputes to sort it out. YouTube should figure out a better system than sending out these continual threatening messages to songwriters on behalf of corporate behemoths who don’t have any incentive to care if they get it right. I would suggest requiring documentation from the claimant on the first go — then at least the victim will know what he is being accused of stealing in a process that ironically seems very much like stealing from the other direction.

And, for God’s sake, stop basing it on the title. Everyone knows that’s stupid.

Written by

I am Dr. Frank. I write books and songs. Mtx Forever.

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