In 1999 I asked my friend, a fellow up-and-coming music producer from the UK, to remix a song of mine. Since we were both fresh faces in the producing game, everything was done innocently enough “on the strenf”…”for the love of the game”. That is, no contracts, no money exchanged. Just homies making music together.
The remix was dance music, different than the hiphop music I was making. Which is why I asked this producer to remix the track, for a little something different. In all honesty, the finished product wasn’t very good. And I struggle to recall what exactly I did with it. MP3.Com was popular at the time and it’s likely it ended up on there as a free download, but I can’t quite call it. In any case, the track was shelved and forgotten.
10 years later, this remix producer is pretty famous. Famous is perhaps a relative term, but he’s been quite successful in the genre he helped pioneer.
Which brings us up to present day: A couple of months ago, I went back to my mom’s crib in Philly and was going through a bunch of old stuff and I came up on the original CD the remix producer sent me featuring the track. “Oh snap!”, I had forgotten all about it. And better yet, this producer had a new release right around the corner. What a dope little “easter egg” for me to post as a free download on my site, I thought; a curiosity from “the olden days” when we were on the come-up.
And so I did. And I was proud I found the song and happy of the success my man has had over the years. And I thought he’d feel the same, but when I tagged him on Twitter with a link to the blog post all hell broke loose. Dude was PISSED. More than surprised, I was shocked by his reaction. Perhaps he thought I was trying to capitalize on his new album release with a few clicks to my website? He never explicitly expressed that, but I couldn’t come up with any other reason why he would react so negatively to the tune. I denied his initial request to remove the song from my SoundCloud account as I tried to contact him personally in Twitter Direct Message to work it all out.
That was at nighttime for me in the United States. And I soon had to go to sleep. But in the UK, where the remix producer was located, his day was just getting started. And boy oh boy was he a busy bee.
As I slept in the U.S., the U.K. producer acted quickly to do what he felt was right and issued a Copyright Infringement claim to SoundCloud. I’m not sure how the remix producer framed the copyright violation — as to what context he presented his claim — but SoundCloud was swift in their reaction. By the time I woke up the following morning, let’s say roughly 8 hours later, the remix had been removed from my SoundCloud page and I received this email from the Copyright Infringement department at SoundCloud:
(Edited for space)
Subject: Copyright infringement
Hi there, Yameen,
This is [redacted] from SoundCloud. I’m getting in touch regarding some sounds in your SoundCloud account.
We’ve received a report that the following sounds contain material that infringes somebody else’s copyright:
http://soundcloud.com/yameen/remix-song-link/ [Link has been replaced to conceal song name - Yameen]
If you don’t own all the relevant rights in these sounds, or don’t have permission from the rights holder to upload, publish and distribute these sounds, then we can’t host these sounds on SoundCloud.
If you believe that there has been some mistake – in particular, if you do have the necessary rights, or if you think the copyright material has been identified incorrectly – please get back to us via the link below:
Now, a lot is going through my head when I receive this email:
- Why didn’t my mans work this out with me directly? Why did he go directly to SoundCloud and not talk it out?
- How is this a “copyright infringement” when the remix was produced *for me*?
- How could any Joe Schmoe simply write a letter to SoundCloud, point a finger and claim “Copyright infringement!” and have tracks removed nearly instantaneously?
This last point is the most important one. The remix producer, as revealed in later emails between he and I, simply did not like the song. He felt he had outgrown the song and it was a blemish on his burgeoning music career. Now, as a producer, I get that. I can respect that. But that remix did happen. It exists. It came from you. And for you, the remix producer, to claim ownership of this song to the extent you feel it is within your power to wield a copyright infringement claim is as gray an area as it is for me to claim ownership of the song. Because despite the fact your production is a remix of my original work (which is wholly mine), no legal contarct beyond email exchanges and physical letters was ever produced and no money exchanged. And as a businessman, I get that too. But wow. Has it hit you yet, dear reader? If you simply don’t like a song on SoundCloud’s service, you can email them at email@example.com, claim you are the owner of the work, and issue a copyright takedown.
SoundCloud never contacted me about the claim to get my side of the story. They didn’t hesitate to remove the song once they received the remix producer’s email. His word was good enough. Apparently by law (The Digital Millenium Act to be precise), they have no choice but to remove the song.
I discovered this after I replied to the SoundCloud letter above, stating my side of the story. I wrote:
“I am disappointed to say the least that anyone can hit the ‘File a copyright claim’ button on SoundCloud and remove tracks at will.”
To which SoundCloud replied:
“Please understand that it is not up to us to decide whether a takedown claim is valid or not. By legal regulation we are obliged to act on content being reported as infringing others’ copyright. We received the takedown request from [Remix Producer (firstname.lastname@example.org)]. You would need to get in touch with them directly to resolve the situation.”
And that was it. Did I want to involve my lawyer in this and pay his associated fees for what amounted to probably zero return? Nope. The song wasn’t what mattered to me anymore. It was the precedent this situation and its extremely swift reaction presented that impressed me the most. And that is what is so scary about bills like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). There is absolutely no due process in the way those bills (and apparently even the current bill, the aforementioned Millenium Digital Act) are written. All it takes is a pointing of the finger and boom: Your track is removed from SoundCloud. Or your website is now unaccessible to the public. All, potentially, while you are asleep like I was, unable to even present your case.
So take heed: SOPA & PIPA may have been de-toothed, but they and other bills like them will be back. And they will be much more clever and sneaky the next time around.
As for me and the remix producer, you may be wondering? We’re cool and no hard feelings. As I said, as a music producer myself, I can respect he didn’t want that old sound out there presented in a modern context. It’s all good. He apologized for the copyright infringement claim and admitted he acted in haste, heated as he was in the moment. And while I still feel a remix produced for a song I created, without a contract, is as much mine as it is potentially his, I’m not going to let it wreck a friendship.
- SoundCloud.com: Procedure for Reporting Copyright and other Infringements for Rights Owners in the United States
- SoundCloud.com: Disputing a copyright claim (Image)
- SoundCloud.com: Contest copyright claim form (Image)
- Copyright.gov: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 [PDF]
- DMCA: “Do-it-yourself takedowns!“
- Ars Technica: Articles on SOPA
- ChillingEffects.com / EFF: Twitter’s public listing of DMCA takedown requests