Friday, January 27, 2012

Universal Music Claims Copyright Over Song That It Didn't License, Just Because One Of Its Artists Rapped To It On A Leaked Track

Last year, when Universal Music issued a very questionable takedown of a Megaupload commercial -- which involved some Universal Music artists -- UMG suggested that it had extra special rights with YouTube in which it could take down videos that it didn't even have a direct copyright on. Google later said that UMG was greatly exaggerating the details of their deal, and all UMG could do beyond issuing normal copyright takedowns was to take down live performances.

So a bunch of folks are scratching their heads over a highly questionable UMG takedown of a song by a Florida-based rap duo, After the Smoke (who are not signed to Universal). The details are a bit complex, and to understand what appears to have happened, you first have to go back a bit. It seems that After the Smoke recorded an instrumental "beat" which they then shopped around to various artists to potentially rap/sing over. This is pretty common, and if someone likes the beat, they'll buy it. In this case, they offered the beat to Yelawolf, who they had opened for. Yelawolf claimed to like it, and apparently did record over it... but about the same time got signed to Universal Music and nothing happened with the track (and the beat was never paid for). However, about a month ago, the Yelawolf track over the ATS beat got leaked -- leading ATS to get upset about the lack of credit (and, one assumes, payment).

Some of the folks who participated in the Yelawolf track apologized and went public with a statement about how this track was not intended to be released and how leaks suck and how ATS definitely deserves credit. That statement also noted that ATS had (after not finding a buyer) recorded their own version of a song over the beat. And, indeed, soon after, ATS released their own official version.... but then UMG took it down. As far as I can tell, UMG apparently decided that because its act -- Yelawolf -- had recorded over this beat (despite not licensing it), it must own it... and because of that blocked ATS's song -- which was completely their own. It seems likely that UMG simply used the Yelawolf track with YouTube's ContentID to block any tracks with the same music -- but things got screwy when it turned out that neither UMG nor Yelawolf had actually licensed the beat.

Either way, in another report, ATS filed a complaint with YouTube... and was told, too bad, and that UMG owned the track. Eventually, as the story started spreading, someone at UMG realized the mistake and backed down.

But, in the short term, this really does (yet again) highlight one of the many problems of an aggressive takedown system. UMG clearly screwed up here and shut down an independent act's own song -- which, honestly, one of its own acts had infringed on the copyright for. This is really quite an amazing form of copyright abuse when you think about it: UMG artist fails to license beat on a song that is leaked... and then UMG claims copyright over the official song over the same beat. That's definitely adding insult to injury -- or, perhaps, adding injunction to infringement. While it appears that cooler heads prevailed and got this worked out eventually, it seems pretty crazy that any artist should have to deal with some giant industry conglomerate completely shutting down their own works based on bogus copyright claims.

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