I had an email from Google.

I get quite a few emails from Google – most are either one or more of the various alerts I find so handy to keep me feeling in touch with the world without having to make the extra effort to hunt, or notes telling me that somebody new – at least half of whom I don’t think I know – has added me to a Google+ circle. This, of course, adds some social media variation to the endless requests from people I’ve never heard of wanting to add me as a friend on Facebook, or the ‘followed’ advice telling me I’m now haunted by a marketing or travel advice bot or, and this happened last week, an account owned by a tractor factory on Twitter (the first of which is ignored, the second of which is blocked – I’m not ardently craving ‘followers’ nor ‘friends’).

Then, I still belong to Old Friends, but the only notification I seem to get from them is when one guy, with whom I went to boarding school, and haven’t seen since, endlessly changes jobs.

He’s now the warehouse manager at a tractor factory in Perth so there may be a link.

But, yes – a letter from Google sat in the junk mail. Well, not Google, per se, but YouTube, which is a Google underling of course.

It was a fairly straightforward bit of officialese.

It told me that I’d breached copyright, and under the DMCA I was in minor trouble. The offending video was this one:

Yep, that’s Toy Love. They were a New Zealand band of some import who released one fairly influential album back in 1980 – but of course, any ardent New Zealand music fan/buff/follower/addict/trainspotter knows that. The album was released via WEA Records Ltd. – now Warner Music New Zealand – on a label called DeLuxe owned by a guy called Michael Browning, the former manager of AC/DC. The other major act on the tiny label at the time was INXS.

[An aside: this post is yet another rant about things copyright-related – if such irks it may pay to stop reading now.]

Time passed and the Toy Love album was deleted. In fact, it was deleted for years. Decades. It went for big money secondhand. Toy Love had no communication from DeLuxe, and the whole ownership of the album was up in the air. In the early 2000s, the band finally managed to get the rights back and reissued the album, licensed to Flying Nun Records. Flying Nun, in 2005, became a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, administered by Warner Music New Zealand. The copyright in the record remained with the band, though. In 2010 Flying Nun went back into local hands and with it went the rights to distribute that album.

[Another aside: Michael Browning still has, via a murky Australian company (who also saw fit to issue a bootleg of the NZ punk album AK79 under the title Australian Indies Vol.1 a few years back), an un-remastered shocking quality copy of the original Toy Love album listed for sale online – avoid it and buy the band’s version if you are inclined.]

Last year – whilst hunting through junk – I found a disc of old punk video footage. Amongst it was the video in that YouTube clip. I contacted the band members and, with their approval, uploaded it. I guess I thought I was in the clear. Nothing on that video actually came from the album, and even if it had done so, I had written approval from the band, who now own the copyright in all recordings.

Warners have never owned it. Ever. Never.

Unfortunately, Warner Music Group don’t see it that way. Without any proof, legal right, paperwork or substance, they’ve claimed the rights to that (and another similar Toy Love video uploaded with permission) and, according to the letter, they have the right now to run advertising with the video if they want. In other words, they’ve stolen the clip’s copyright from Toy Love and are now asserting a right to profit from something they don’t own.

Piracy is a good word for that. It has currency these days.

Anyone who’s been paying attention in recent years knows that the big labels – Warners are the worst – have done this to thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of videos, almost randomly it seems. They claim enough, they get to keep a percentage I suppose – and get the performance fees spinoff.

So, YouTube has a process to deal with that, they claim. You can write and contest pirated or dodgy claims like this and they say they will look at it.

Yeah, sure…..

I’ve already been through that and know how it works – or more, doesn’t. At least not in favour of the smaller copyright owners.

Here’s another video:

That’s a cool, funny, video – made as a school project by some students in Hamilton – to the parody tune, Stole My Car. Now Stole My Car in itself is a grey recording. It’s a parody of OMC’s How Bizarre – yes you knew that – created by a guy at a radio station in Rotorua in 1996. It was a massive airplay hit all over the world, following How Bizarre’s trek around the planet – it was a top ten airplay record in Queensland in its own right- but was never officially released anywhere. 1

I own the copyright in the audio – 100% unencumbered – and, given that visuals are lifted from the game Grand Theft Auto, owned by the indie Rockstar Games that company could perhaps make a claim on those. However, they, to date, haven’t done so.

I liked the video so much, and I’ve always loved the parody, that I uploaded it to my small YouTube channel. All cool – or it should have been.

I received a letter from Google/YouTube. Sony Music had made a claim on the audio. They owned the rights to the recording I was told.

A mistake I guessed.

I filled out the correction form and sent it off to YouTube. They own no part of it I explained.

The response was:

All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content:

  • Entity: SME  2  Content Type: Sound Recording

I looked at this and tried to work out what this meant.

It came down to one or more of the following:

a)Sony Music are mistaken
b)Sony Music are lying
c)YouTube are mistaken
d)YouTube are lying

I fully understand that this is a minor nothing-blip in the copyright enforcement maelstrom, being that the master recording was probably identified by an algorithm that was not as clever as either Sony or Google thought it might be and that a) was the reason this clip was tagged. That led to c).

However, my bigger problem was the second claim by YouTube that ‘All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content’. Given that Sony played no part in releasing this anywhere on planet earth, and have no justifiable claim to any part of the sound copyright, I’m very doubtful that, at any time, ‘All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content’.

It is, bluntly, a lie by YouTube. It’s d). SME did not review the video and did not confirm anything.

It’s bullshit. Brazen, open and unashamed.

Yes, it’s a small thing, but once again it’s theft of a copyright. The copyright I own has been compromised, and courtesy of YouTube’s lazy lie (and I think it is just a lazy lie rather than some grand conspiracy), handed to a third party who do not own it.

There are 5 more videos on my channel on which similar claims – all bogus – have been made. I only have 15 videos up there, so that’s about 50% of all videos I’ve uploaded that have had part of the copyright stripped from them whether it be lazily or with malicious intent – the end result is the same – by Google. I have no say in whether advertising is run with them, and – worse – Warner Music, Universal Music and Sony Music are all getting paid each time they are played.

Multiply that by the number of videos on YouTube (and the meeting I had with a couple of indie label owners recently where we all asked, “Have you ever had any money from YouTube, despite being duly registered to receive such?” “No”, “No”, “No” – major labels DO get YouTube monies – large monies) and it adds another dimension to the unpleasant conundrum.

Grand Theft Video indeed.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. It was, however, widely bootlegged in NZ, Australia and Canada/US
  2. Sony Music Entertainment