RIAA Sending DMCA Takedowns On *FREE* Music Being Distributed Directly Off Universal Music Website & Promoted By The Artist

from the left-hand,-right-hand? dept

A week or so ago, we wrote about how Twitter had suspended accounts of a bunch of hip hop bloggers, after receiving DMCA takedown notices because the twitter accounts of those bloggers linked to blog posts about music that was sent by promoters working for the labels themselves. Anyone familiar with the hip hop promotion world knows that this is how it works. Hip hop blogs are the new radio for that genre, and the way you get your artist noticed is by sending a track to one of those blogs. So then issuing a takedown is kind of like having the promoter you hire ask a radio station to play a song… and then sending a legal threat letter when they do. Just another day in the major label world, however.

In asking questions about these takedowns, Twitter sent over some recent links to Chilling Effects showing the details of the takedown, which leads us to some interesting discoveries. First, the party actually sending the takedowns is the RIAA. All of the letters in question say they come from “Job title: Online Anti-Piracy, RIAA.” Elsewhere it says that the takedown notices are from Universal Music… but sent by the RIAA.

Kinda makes you wonder what the RIAA actually knows about what the marketing folks are doing. Or, hell, what the actual artists and execs at Universal Music are doing. In some cases, the evidence suggests not much at all. Let’s take just a few examples. If you start looking at some of the takedown notices — try this one and this one and this one for starters, you see that a bunch of the takedowns were over the following:

Description of original work: Sound and video recordings as performed by the artist known as The Dream.

As you may know, The-Dream, also known as Terius Youngdell Nash, is one of the top producers, song writers and performers out there today. Take a look at the list of songs he has his fingerprints on. He wrote Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” He wrote Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” He’s written songs for pretty much every top artist. Rihanna, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears. Even Celine Dion.

He works for Def Jam, which is owned by Universal Music, as one of their key moneymaking songwriters. He’s at the top of the game here. So, clearly, when he puts out his own work, you could understand why the RIAA would rush around demanding that everyone take down tweets linking to the music.

Except… He also has his own label under the Def Jam label, known as Radio Killa. And if you go to the front page of Radio Killa Records right now, as we speak, you see that The Dream’s new EP, 1977 is being given away free. Here’s a screenshot of the front page. Note it says “THE NEW FREE ALBUM.”

If you click on the cover on his website (obviously not on our screenshot of it), it offers you a download of a .zip file containing all of the tracks. In other words, this Universal Records-owned label is giving away the music directly off of its own site. While the tweets that the RIAA demanded be taken down are gone, in looking it over and talking to some people, it appears they were linking to the download themselves. So the “infringing links” — according to the RIAA’s “anti-piracy expert” — were to the Universal Music-owned label’s own website and files. Brilliant.

Meanwhile, The Dream himself was tweeting up a storm, telling people to download the tracks. And while he joked at one point that the lawyers might crack down and force him to take down the music, it’s still up on a Universal Music website, and it seems quite reasonable for anyone linking to it to recognize that it’s been authorized by Universal Music for distribution. Not only that, but he talks up the importance of giving the music away and jokes about all the “freeloaders” who are “flooding” his site with downloads. From there, he talks up how awesome it is that “everyone’s playin'” the album and how much he loves and thanks his fans. When asked about it, he even stated that it’s “free literally and figuratively.”

And… for those of his fans who promote the work that he’s giving away for free directly on his label’s website by linking to that free music on a Universal Music website… the RIAA sends takedown notices, and people risk completely losing their Twitter accounts.

Yup. This is the RIAA. Protecting the interests of the “artists” right?

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Companies: riaa, universal music

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Comments on “RIAA Sending DMCA Takedowns On *FREE* Music Being Distributed Directly Off Universal Music Website & Promoted By The Artist”

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82 Comments
Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One thing I’d like to know is if the RIAA even has legal standing to issue a DMCA takedown over a link? Can you even have copyright over a link?

Yeah, that has me wondering too.

Why would the RIAA be the one issuing takedowns – I thought they were simply a trade group that claims to represent the U.S. recording industry. Wouldn’t the label need to transfer the copyright of the offending song to the RIAA in order for them to issue a DMCA takedown notice? And if they didn’t, wouldn’t that be a fraudulent notice?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Evolution:

There was a time when the “civilized” encountered “savages” and were unable to comprehend that a person cannot own land and that it is in the best interest of this world to have everyone take care of the land as if it was their own by nourishing it and allowing it to grow for the benefit of all.

That “civilization” has progressed to value “ownership” of far more than the most basic claims on land. To think that you can own an idea, a process, a song or dance, an expression or any form of these regardless of the technology used requires you to have an enormously inflated and misguided sense of self worth.

Another AC says:

Re: Re:

So, he is doing this for fun you say? Not for money? But without copyright, no one would possibly do such a thing so this must be FUD, right?

Or are you implying that someone is giving something away for free to help further build his career as a hit songwriter? Even thought that model has already worked for him, that business model could never work! FUD I say, FUD!

Josey (profile) says:

The only answer?

Is it possible that the only answer to this entire stupid fiasco is to host web sites in a foreign country where the RIAA can’t touch it?

Is this what it comes down to? Moving artists out of the US so they can do what they want, with their OWN stuff? Oh wait, that’s right, they sign contracts, which pretty much gives artists no rights to their own music. Doh. How could I forget that? OH, I know how. I keep thinking artists are who we “give” money to when we buy their music.. right.. Right? Doh.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He clearly started a label, didn’t sign up with one. That’s how successful hip hop artists do things, starting with Dr Dre and Death Row records. Lets them retain the copyrights while the publisher retains all the distribution rights. So he signed with a parent label to help him distribute his music, which now seems stupid since they seem to be stopping him from distributing his music…. for the artist (who would clearly not be him.)

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Universal gave him permission to offer free downloads of his music FROM THE UNIVERSAL WEBSITE. They gave him the bandwidth and hosting space to do so. The downloads are entirely authorized.

Then Universal’s lawyers go around having links to that fully-authorized, label-supported free material taken down. Why did they do that?

The fact that you can’t answer that says all that needs to be said about this.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You mean the TRUE version of events? Please, explain to me what you think happened and how it is different.

And you want an answer to your question of why he signed? Simple: because record labels are NOT USELESS. They have LOTS to offer an artist, and Techdirt has never claimed otherwise. There are plenty of reasons for an artist to want the services of a large label, and it CAN be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But when a record label’s two hands don’t know what each other are doing, you clearly have a problem.

Do you deny that Universal supports him having his album up for download? They clearly do – it wouldn’t be there otherwise. And yet the RIAA lawyers fight against it anyway, even though the company that they are supposed to be defending actually wants the downloads there.

You really think that makes sense? How about YOU start answering some questions instead of dodging them, and explain to me how this benefits ANYONE involved, and how it is anything less than total hypocrisy on the RIAA’s part.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Universal records has name recognition and presumably a more established distribution chain for physical products. Both points are clear reasons why he may want to “voluntarily hook it up with Universal.”

Through his partnership with Universal, he may now be able to reach radio and retail partners that on his own he would not have been able to. Even if your goal is to just give away your music, which I don’t think is his goal, the added name recognition and resources are hugely beneficial.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“He started a label and voluntarily hooked it up with Universal.

If he just wants to give his music away, why did he do that?”

From what I understand, he didn’t sign with Universal, he sent some tracks over to them so they could promote them. He didn’t “sell” them to Universal, he asked them/paid them, to promote the music.

Maybe he used his influence with Universal, see’ing as how he’s one of their top song producers and a major cash cow for them, to get them to help him out. Doesn’t mean they own his work or have the right to tell him/others that they can’t link to his site.

HothMonster says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“He started a label and voluntarily hooked it up with Universal.

If he just wants to give his music away, why did he do that?”

Apparently he doesn’t need their help with promotion or connecting with fans. So, im guessing he signed so he can have access to the bags of money they have laying around and so they let their other artists buy the songs he writes.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He started a label and voluntarily hooked it up with Universal.

If he just wants to give his music away, why did he do that?

I don’t believe that anyone has argued that the labels aren’t good to use for promotion and support.

I am of the mind that is EXACTLY what the labels should shifting their business models towards, instead of trying to keep the dinosaur model of selling physical containers for music. Just my opinion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“I don’t believe that anyone has argued that the labels aren’t good to use for promotion and support.”

fuck, I argue that. They suck at promotion, they only ones they promote are the top 1% while jacking the rest who they suck dry. And support? You mean like ripping us using their ‘creative’ accounting? Fuck them, they were never good at promotion, support or anything else, they were just the only game in town.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the issue may be much more simple:

Universal wants the traffic to come only from the website after people have seen the promotion, not from direct hotlinks to the download. The links on twitter and such should be to the page, and not directly to the files.

If the files are not intended to be directly linked, they certainly would be in scope to say that they are infringing on their rights (to promote the file).

I trust that you can go to the site in question and download the file, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, what I was thinking was that this is sort of like broadcast TV, “free except for the commercials”. I can’t help but wondering if it’s a nice attempt to drive users to itunes to buy the rest of his music, or perhaps to drive people into the website?

I downloaded it and listened to it quickly (skipping song to song) and it sounds like B-roll slow jam R&B with too much swearing in it. I guess he has a new album coming up, and this could be part of the buzz building. Clearly having people just shortcut the system and just give away the music defeats the marketing purposes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If their goal is to “drive users to itunes to buy the rest of his music” then allowing them to download the free music without viewing the promotion will still “be part of the buzz building” and not defeat the marketing purpose.

Those who are interested in viewing the promotion and the rest of the Universal site probably still do so and those who just downloaded the song likely would not have gone to the Universal site in the first place, but may be more inclined to buy additional songs or even visit the website and share it.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why don’t you find out for yourself. The link to the website is in the article just before the image.

When you get there, you will see some fairly large text reading: “CLICK ALBUM COVER FOR DOWNLOAD”

When you do so, you will be prompted to download a zip file with all the tracks inside.

With all that said, does it really matter if someone is linking to the page or the zip file directly? I would say no.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I actually had to read your post a few times to try to get the gist of what you said.

As I mentioned, I downloaded the file (and I don’t care for the combination of slow jam R&B and cussing, but that is just me).

As for “does it really matter”, consider that someone downloading directly would not be exposed to anything else on that page, would not see the links to itunes for other stuff, and would not get a link inside to the official site.

So yeah, I can see the difference, and I can see where from a marketing standpoint it would matter. I am shocked you can’t.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can see the point you’re making. However, it is still an abuse of the DMCA. The downloads are authorized. While linking to infringing material might be a gray area, linking to non-infringing material absolutely is not. The DMCA allows a rights holder to get unauthorized content taken down, not links to authorized content that bypass marketing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Again does it matter?

If anyone got to that link, they were exposed to it by word of mouth that it is more powerful than any marketing ploy on the website in question.

And again if people like it, most people I know try to Google something about that artist and probably would return to the page to see if there is something more.

How hard is that to understand?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It would be very simple to set up a system that precluded direct download links (e.g. generating a unique one-use-only download link every time the page loads, or delivering the .zip file through a PHP script that takes a POST request)

There are other options too. They could have included some marketing material in the zip file – perhaps some desktop wallpapers, and a coupon for some iTunes purchases of other material.

Those are all great ways to deal with the “problem” of direct downloads – DMCA takedown notices are not.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Show me where in the DMCA that marketing intentions are considered justification for takedown notices where they otherwise wouldn’t be valid.

Analogously, show me where the law states that it’s illegal to walk out of the room during a commercial on TV but still watch the show being broadcast.

Would you also argue that browser addons like adblockplus are illegal because they allow website visitors to not see advertisements that marketers intended for them to watch?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“If the files are not intended to be directly linked, they certainly would be in scope to say that they are infringing on their rights (to promote the file).”

So, you’re saying people can’t link to a file being offered for free (Note FOR FREE) unless they do it thru an unsecure link of your creation?
Why not just create a secure link that can only be accessed thru your website?
D’Oh!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“If the files are not intended to be directly linked, they certainly would be in scope to say that they are infringing on their rights (to promote the file).”

If that is their intention then they can make the download require that the HTTP referrer is their own site. If they don’t do that and then start chucking around DMCA takedowns they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Anonymous Coward says:

The RIAA should sue itself for giving away free music and violating it’s own copyright. It wouldn’t be the first time a company has itself for violating it’s own copyright either. There was one huge corporation (I forget it’s name) that’s legal department sued it’s web design department for putting some of the corporations own copyrighted images on the corporation’s website.

I hear Fox News almost sued the regular Fox channel for slander to (which would be suing itself), because of their cartoon shows like the Simpsons that frequently attack Fox News for being ultra biased.

DerekCurrie (profile) says:

The Never Ending Story Of RIAA Customer Abuse

Way to go MPAA and RIAA. INSPIRE people to pirate your media if only in revenge for your longstanding and consistent customer abuse. You will never get the clue. You are far too stupid and self-destructive. Thus your biznizz fails. Where were these people when the brains were handed out…

Anonymous Marketologist, PhD says:

Free Samples!

Once upon a time in America, large piratical organizations seduced housewifes, alcoholic bums and paperboys to blanket a neighborhood in “free” samples. Like drug dealers, many saw that once enough users were hooked on the “free dope” they would willingly turn over enough hard-earned cash on the pirate’s product to more than make up for the “free” samples. It was quite like our modern-day “spam” problem.

This mystical predator-prey relationship is called “mass market advertising” and it is strangely effective.

Perhaps someone would forward my study notes to the UMG tribe.

Holke says:

The only way this make sense, is if we think about it like the Home of the Underdogs website that give old games for free, but try as hard to not let people put the download links on other places, so people need to go to the website to download the stuff. But of course if universal wanted that, they should have told him or he should have asked them after this story.

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