I've written before about the benefits of having an open commenting system on websites, complete with anonymity, and I still believe in that stance. I've also made the point that the comments and communities a site develops can often be as much the stars of the show as the original content. So, it goes without saying that the more you enable your community to provide awesome and relevant commentary, while not locking the system down, the better off you're going to be. I think Techdirt does this well, by still allowing for anonyous comments while providing benefits for having a profile with a comment history (participation in contests, credibility through history, etc.).
"Try to comment on a video today and a window will pop up with the title "Start using your full name on YouTube," which will sign you in with your Google+ account. A YouTube spokesperson told BetaBeat that this option has been offered since June 29 and that users with a Google+ account will see the same thing if they try to upload a video.
If you don't want to use your Google+ account, you can refuse -- but then you're taken to a second prompt, which asks "Are you sure?" Then, like some kind of Internet degenerate, you must explain why you don't want to use your full name."
Now, this may be a tad irritating to anyone who insists on commenting anonymously, but I think if the strategy works to get more people to comment while being accountable then the benefits will outweigh the annoyance. Because if there has been any single great all-encompassing truth about the last decade, it's this: if you're looking for a reason to hate humanity, spend 20 minutes browsing YouTube comments.
Having said that, it's important that YouTube still allow the option to comment anonymously. Without that option, you may lose valuable comments from people with legitimate fear of reprisal if their name is associated with their words, whether that reprisal comes from friends, family, their employers, or the government. But being proactive in encouraging users to comment under their accounts is a good thing, which may very well breed a better commenting community.
YouTube campaign videos get pulled over bogus copyright claims with alarming regularity. And now, as we're entering silly season for the US Presidential campaign, it means we'll be seeing more high profile takedowns. Back during the 2008 campaign, the McCain campaign even sent YouTube a letter trying to explain fair use to the company (seriously), and suggesting that Presidential campaigns should get special treatment to prevent videos from being pulled down. Of course, what might be better is if the Presidential candidates spoke up about how they'd fix the "shoot first, ask question later" aspect of the DMCA takedown procedures, but no one seems willing to do that yet. Back in the 2008 primaries, Mitt Romney also had to explain fair use to Fox News, so he should be ready for this issue again.
In fact, he appears to be the first "fair use victim" this time around. Romney's campaign had posted a web video ad on YouTube that included some of the well-known footage of President Obama singing a single line of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." Apparently, that triggered BMG to issue a takedown on the Romney ad.
This confuses me. If you look at the original footage of Obama singing, it's a grand total of 9 seconds long. If there ever were a clear-cut case of fair use -- a very brief snippet, used in a political ad -- this would be it.
One hopes that Romney, who spoke out against SOPA during the primaries, will start to realize that perhaps he should take a stronger stand in favor of digital free speech rights and against copyright excessiveness, now that he's (yet again) a victim of such things. But perhaps that's just wishful thinking.
Well, this is a fun twist. We just wrote about the story of now-world-famous drunk guy Robert Wilkinson, his poor Freddy Mercury impersonation, and the resulting takedown and reinstatement of the video by EMI. Now a commenter points us to the fact that the video has been taken down againa different version of the video has also been taken down, thanks to a copyright claim by... Robert Wilkinson:
The claim is, of course, bogus. Wilkinson doesn't have rights over anything in the video: he didn't film it, and the song belongs to EMI. It's likely that he just wanted to stem the tide of this embarrassing video, and knew that he could do so in a few steps with YouTube's takedown tool. Whether or not he believes he does have some copyright stake here is unclear, but hopefully he knows better than to pursue things further, because he could end up facing liability for copyfraud. Unfortunately, this is how notice-and-takedown systems work: free speech can be easily censored, at least temporarily, by anyone for any reason.
Copyright does not exist to save people from embarrassment, nor does it even apply in this case—but in the ownership culture of intellectual property, the average person seems to think they have some innate right to control every use of their image or even any reference to their existence. It's not like this will make a difference anyway: plenty of people have surely made copies of the video by now, and it'll be back soon enough (possibly with autotune, or synced to My Little Ponies clips). Sorry Robert Wilkinson: there's no escape from reality.
You may have heard the story in the last few days about the really drunk guy, Robert Wilkinson, who was arrested and put in a police car up in Canada, and responded by breaking into song with a complete rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. If you haven't seen it yet, you're one of just a few people:
So what happened? You guessed it. EMI, in its ultimate ridiculousness, issued a takedown for violating its publishing copyright. The immediate outcry actually made EMI back down, with the company saying:
"It seems like a mistake has been made."
That's a fun way of indirectly saying "hey, we made a mistake." Suggesting "a mistake has been made" leaves open the possibility that someone else made that mistake. But, in this day and age where the major labels are so quick to shut down anything that doesn't involve them first getting a huge check, perhaps the "mistake" is with the way the law works.
from the you-can-only-take-my-money-for-so-long-before-you-take-it-all dept
Well, you can never say that performance rights organizations are unwilling to explore every option when attempting to snag a bit more income, ostensibly for their roster artists. American PROs (ASCAP, BMI, etc.) have attempted to collect from Girl Scouts, every cell phone owner with a ringtone and argued that a single person listening to their own music via the cloud is a "public performance." British PROs (PRS, mainly) have levied fees against pretty much any small business that has the audacity to play radios at an audible volume, as well as succeeding in collecting fees for "public performances" from hotels/motels who provide in-room radios for their guests. SABAM, Belgium's PRO arm, has managed to out-thug the rest of the world's PROs, demanding fees from truck drivers for listening to the radio in their cabs ("workplace") as well as collecting for bands that don't even exist.
There's a lot of competition out there in the dog-eat-dog world of performance rights double and triple-dipping, but it appears that Brazil's PRO, ECAD (Central Office of Collection and Distribution) is ready to play in the big leagues. Its strategy? Collect royalties from bloggers who embed videos. (As you may recall, ASCAP tried this a few years back to no avail, but Brazil's relationship with copyright could safely be described as "incomprehensibly inconsistent.")
(The following quotes come from a translated page, so they have been copied verbatim.)[UPDATE: Eduardo, the author of the original post, has sent over a better translation of the quotations.)
The saga of unusual collections of the Central Office of Collection and Distribution (ECAD) has added another chapter last week. The boys from the blog Caligraffiti received last Tuesday in an email warning that the collecting society would have to pay royalties for videos from YouTube and Vimeo that appeared on the site.
The saga of unusual collections from the Central Office of Collection and Distribution (ECAD) gained another chapter last week. The boys from the blog Caligraffiti received last Tuesday an email from the collecting society warning that they would have to pay royalties for videos from YouTube and Vimeo embedded on the site.
This is surprising. ECAD already collects performance royalties from Youtube Brasil for its artists. In fact, it collects quite a bit from Youtube.
YouTube Brasil will have to pay 2.5% of its gross revenue per exhibition of songs protected by Ecad (Bureau of Revenue Distribution) in the country. If the amount of the stipulated percentage does not reach BRL 258,000 (US $146,250) in a year, the site must pay the value as "minimum annual fee".
Not only does Youtube Brasil pay a minimum mandatory fee yearly but ECAD has also hit the site with a BRL 645,000 (US $366,000) "subscription fee." The PRO collected roughly BRL 510,000 (US $289,000) in 2011. With Youtube already on the hook for the performance royalties, how does ECAD arrive at the conclusion that embedded video (just a link back to Youtube for all intents and purposes) should subject bloggers to performance royalty payments?
Well, according to ECAD, Youtube is the "transmitter" and of course, has to pay. But blogs embedding videos are "relays" and are also subject to these fees. Basically, ECAD has found a loophole in the existing law and is looking to exploit it. ECAD's spokesman:
[UPDATE: Translation via Eduardo, along with this splendid note -- "This second one has a very bad wording in portuguese as well, written by lawyers in their own language."]:
The right of public performance in digital mode is through the concept of transmission exists in law and in this art. 5 of section II of Law 9.610/98, which issue is the transmission or dissemination of sounds or sounds and images through of radio waves, satellite signals, wire, cable or other conductor, optical or other electromagnetic process, so this includes the Internet.
The rights of public performance in digital media happen through the concept of transmission found in the article 5, section II of the law 9.610/98, in wich transmission or emission are the diffusion of sounds or images through radio waves, satellite signals, wire, cable or other conductor, optical or other electromagnetic process, so this includes the Internet.
ECAD also argues that the "transmitter" and the "relay" are completely different forms of use and as such, do not represent "double recovery." This is, roughly translated, complete horseshit. But it gets even worse. Bloggers are being charged a flat-rate based on a designation that ECAD itself decides. The cheapest option, most likely, is to be declared a "non-profit." But even that designation saddles the blog with crippling fees.
To blog [as] a nonprofit, the amount charged by Ecad is nothing lightweight: R $ 352.59 (US $204) monthly.
Caligraffiti is a niche blog dedicated to design and technology, with a hit count of 1,000-1,500 hits per day and is not profitable. Every contributor does something other than blogging for income. Despite this, ECAD has designated the blog as a "webcasting or broadcasting program originating from the internet," a category that is sure to increase the amount levied against it.
In response to this collection attempt, Caligraffiti was briefly taken offline. After some legal consultation, the bloggers decided to re-open and fight ECAD head on, stating that this is clearly an attack on the internet itself, which was built on open sharing and dissemination of information.
ECAD is also sticking to its guns, stating that although it has no collection arm "dedicated" to collecting from bloggers, anyone who "publicly performs music" (read: "embeds video") on their site is subject to these fees. Of course, ECAD isn't doubling up on royalties just to be greedy. Its focus is on "the awareness and enlightenment on the need for payment copyright," without which its covered artists would be "disrespected" by callous bloggers and their embedding code.
Eduardo has also confirmed that ECAD has gone after weddings with DJs for performance royalties (as Ninja pointed out in the comments) and pointed out that the BRL $359 amounts to roughly half a month's wages at minimum wage.
A whole bunch of folks have been sending in this Slashdot story about a guy who had one of his videos "claimed" via ContentID on YouTube due to a purpoted match with content that Rumblefish claims to hold the copyright on. We actually saw this post early on, because it links to an old Techdirt post about questionable Rumblefish takedowns. In this case, the guy says that there was no music in the video, but that Rumblefish said that the birds singing in the background violated its copyright:
"I make nature videos for my YouTube channel, generally in remote wilderness away from any possible source of music. And I purposely avoid using a soundtrack in my videos because of all the horror stories I hear about Rumblefishfiling claims against public domain music. But when uploading my latest video, YouTube informed me that I was using Rumblefish's copyrighted content, and so ads would be placed on my video, with the proceeds going to said company. This baffled me. I disputed their claim with YouTube's system — and Rumblefish refuted my dispute, and asserted that: 'All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content: Entity: rumblefish; Content Type: Musical Composition.' So I asked some questions, and it appears that the birds singing in the background of my video are Rumblefish's exclusive intellectual property."
While it's still not fully clear what happened, the idea of claiming copyright on birds singing is actually not an entirely new concept (though, yes, it is ridiculous). In 2010, we wrote about Apple getting sued buy a guy, Martyn Stewart, who had recorded a bunch of bird sounds. Someone else had used those sounds in an app called iBird. As I said then, I'm not sure that there really is much "copyright" to claim over recording birds, but even if someone wants to make an argument that recording birds is copyrightable, it's pretty clear that the guy in the story above was just recording his own sounds -- not using someone's "copyright"-covered bird songs...
Yesterday, President Obama used Google Hangout to do a kind of online virtual town hall meeting, which was both live streamed and is now up on Youtube:
Being a "first" such use of a relatively new technology is bound to get some attention, and I thought the coverage from Anthony De Rosa and Alex Howard were both worth reading. The point that Howard makes is that one of the more interesting elements in the event was the actual back-and-forth that happened, rather than just taking questions and answering them. Also, there were some "tough" questions. It clearly wasn't just softballs. There was also a neat use of the technology where the moderator asked people to raise their hands if they disagreed with an answer, and had them ask a followup.
On that question, the President claimed that the administration had expressed its concerns about the bill to Congress since it was introduced. That's interesting, since the White House made no official statement until much later, and the stories we heard were that it hadn't really brought up issues with the bill to Congress until just a few weeks before that. Also of interest to folks around here was his reiteration of his support for a bill making its way through Congress to allow for crowdfunding of startups (currently impossible due to SEC regulations) -- and his statement (as he's noted before) that job growth today comes from startups and entrepreneurs. This was a key point that many of us tried to make during the SOPA debates, considering the bill would add liability and compliance costs on those very startups that were creating all of the net job growth in the country today.
On the whole, it didn't seem like this particular use of technology was a complete breakthrough -- and we've seen elected officials in Congress doing similar things for years. But I do think it's a good thing to see elected officials -- all the way up to the President -- making better use of technology to actually connect with constituents, rather than just hearing from people within a limited advisory circle. Hopefully we see continued experimentation like this. Of course, if President Obama did a Reddit AMA (as suggested by Kashmir Hill), it might break the internet...
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.
from the and-don't-forget-the--militarization-of-the-police dept
By now, I expect that many of you have heard or seen the reports of police in riot gear pepper spraying students at UC Davis late last week. If you haven't seen one of the many, many videos of the incident out there, this one is particularly popular and has a pretty good view of the police officer walking up and down the line of peaceful protesters with their arms locked, spraying them heavily with pepper spray:
However, there appear to be dozens of other videos capturing the same thing from a variety of different angles. I just watched about a half dozen of them, and each one provides a little more insight or perspective into what happened. None of them make the police look good. This and other recent incidents of police pepper spraying protesters raise a few different issues (regardless of what you think of what people are protesting for). Let's discuss two of them quickly.
First, it's fascinating to see how protest is changing in the age of YouTube. In the past, photographs often captured iconic moments in similar situations. Or, in some cases, merely the stories of what happened. And while there can be something powerful and moving about a still photograph, the video of these latest incidents really lets you see the details, and I find such videos to be much more powerful in showing the full extent of what's happening. It makes it that much harder to cover things up or try to explain away the actions of the police. We've talked about why the right to record police is an important right for Americans, but in situations like this, it also shows not just the value of recording what the police are doing, but also the power of bringing millions of people around the world right into the situation of what happened.
Related to that is the fact that such a large percentage of people these days now carry handheld video cameras, often in their mobile phones. That we don't just get one angle on these stories, but coverage from pretty much every perspective, is really quite an incredible experience.
The other issue worth discussing is the long term unintended consequences of regulatory and legal battles against vague bogeymen without a thought to what happens. If you want to read a really fascinating opinion piece on what happened at Davis, you should read what Bob Ostertag had to say. Ostertag, among other things, is a professor of Technocultural Studies and Music at UC Davis, and his discussion is really fascinating -- directly calling out the administration for its bogus defense of the pepper spraying (and comparing it to a similar situation that was handled quite peacefully at Columbia). He goes on to highlight other ridiculous overreactions first within the UC system (at nearby Berkeley) and then elsewhere in the country, such as the pepper spraying of an 84-year-old woman in Seattle.
One of the key points he uses to summarize all this is the following:
Last week, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror." Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.
Stamper's article is also a fascinating, yet disturbing read. He points to his own failings in 1999, but also how much worse things have become. He also points to some ideas for turning things around -- creating radically different police forces, with civilian involvement.
Part of me wonders if these two issues converge. The ability of people to so widely document the abuses -- and horrify the watching public -- will hopefully lead people to seek out the sorts of "radical" solutions Stamper suggests (and, yes, I do recognize the ridiculousness of suggesting that police work closely with civilians is considered "radical"). But part of me wonders about the likelihood that things just get worse. We see this elsewhere, where "law enforcement" or the government through declaration or regulation declares "war" on something, rather than trying to understand and deal with the underlying issues. It never helps solve the problem, and oftentimes serves to make it that much worse. But oftentimes it seems like once the moral panics and the "war on..." announcements have been made, politicians and law enforcement become totally committed, unable to back down, even as their "solution" makes things worse.
It's stories like these that should make us wary of jumping on any sort of moral panic that doesn't involve a true look at the underlying causes, and how to fix them, but rather seeks solely a stricter "enforcement" solution. What we see, over and over again, is that that level of "enforcement" becomes a weapon that is used more and more regularly and more and more indiscriminately. Even as some amount of transparency hopefully counteracts some of it, people get so committed that the situation moves far away from solving problems, and just creates more and more new ones.
Apparently Justin Bieber has no interest in being kept out of jail. You may recall that the Fight for the Future folks recently started a satirical campaign against the felony streaming bill (S.978 in the Senate, and a part of the SOPA bill in the House) by jokingly launching a campaign to "free Justin Bieber", noting that the bill, as written, could be interpreted to mean that Justin Bieber could have been guilty of committing a felony with his early videos that he put up on YouTube, which helped to really create Justin Bieber. Those videos meet the standards set in the law for criminal copyright infringement, which drives home just how ridiculous the bill is.
Apparently, Justin Bieber (or, at least, his lawyers) apparently would prefer not to be used to defend against draconian, overreaching copyright legislation. They sent Fight for the Future a cease and desist letter, claiming that such a use infringes on a variety of his rights, including (of course) publicity rights and his privacy rights.
Of course, as the EFF writes in its response (embedded below), it appears that Bieber's lawyers are clearly stretching the interpretation of various laws... likely hoping that by sending the legal nastygram, it would cause the FreeBieber team to stop. But that's not what's happening. They're standing behind the use of Bieber and the entire effort:
With respect to the privacy claims, we cannot fathom how this political campaign in any way intrudes on any privacy right your extremely public client might assert. As for the purported right of publicity violations, state laws have long recognized that a celebrity's interest in his or her image must be balanced against the public interest in free speech.