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

from the going-overboard dept

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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Companies: universal music, youtube

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

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“By choice.”

Copy protection laws make it legally too risky and expensive for restaurants and other venues to host independent performers. They even make it too risky and expensive for bakeries to allow children to draw their own drawings on cakes. Government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies require independents to go through a govt established monopolist gatekeeper to get their content distributed across these channels, which is no easy task.

Outside the internet they have little choice and the government established monopolists are trying to do to the Internet what they have done outside the Internet.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:2 99.9% sign with labels. By choice.

I think this case shows quite clearly what that ?choice? is: if you?re with a label, their big legal guns can be used for you, not against you. Otherwise, you?re on your own, and good luck avoiding the crossfire.

Or, to put it another way, go out on the streets without a pimp to sponge off you, and you?re going to get maimed.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

How many really great bands are there out there? 99.9% sign with labels. By choice.

I love how elastic your definition of a “band” is. Firstly, shitty bands that get nowhere on the internet count – because you assume they have dreams of signing to a label. Then, suddenly, when we point out that labels fuck over most bands, you say they don’t count because they suck.

How convenient.

Anonymous Coward says:

God I read vice, to spare you people the trouble heres the money shot:
So in other words they’ve conceded to give you permission to broadcast your own song which you made and they stole.
Yeah, exactly. We’re now allowed to have our own song online. It’s pretty ridiculous. Last year Universal signed a deal with YouTube to be able to remove any content they like at their own discretion. We’re independent artists with our own copyrighted material and we’re being accused of infringing on their artist just because they’re on Universal. They have no legal right to that song, it makes no sense to me.

What do Universal have to do to prove to YouTube that they own the track? Anything?
Well, I filed a dispute and got a message back saying that, basically, we were lying and that Universal owned it, without any proof. It’s pretty much their word over ours.

That’s a pretty worrying precedent to set?that big guys like Universal can basically rule the internet as they see fit. And it could be even worse when combined with the kinds of punishments being proposed for copyright infringement. Write a good song, go to prison. Like Leadbelly, but in reverse.
I definitely think they’re just shitting on independent artists. Universal are just trying to get ahead of everybody and make money off everybody, including the little guy.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Hmm

Would never work. UMG is too smart for that. Whether you owned it or not, they (and the judge) would not justify the damages in such a case. If you were a large corporation, yes, but because you are little, they’d tell you off, counter sue you for entrapment, bankrupt you with legal fees, and still claim copyright ownership to your works.

And they’d rake in over a million dollars using your work without your permission, but claim they lost $10 million because you posted it up on YouTube. Then they’d drag you into court again on copyright infringement claims, with statutory damages of $150 000 per play per upload ($150 00 x Y-plays x Z-thousands of accounts).

Violated (profile) says:

Re: Note where the story came from

We already knew why they took DaJaz1 down ever since the day they gave it back. All the time before that was a slither of doubt the claims may be right.

Then let us not forget those sites still in limbo like the sister site of DaJaz1 namely OnSmash. You certainly got to be wondering ICE’s current OnSmash status when this seized domain does not even display the common DoJ seizure notice.

Then how many others are subject to Governmental censorship due to being a MPAA/RIAA rival?

Anonymous Coward says:

What about the ad revenue?

Part of the YouTube content management system involved here lets companies like UMG get a significant portion of the advertising revenue from videos using their music (when they don’t decide to take them down instead).

I wonder whether UMG fully withdrew their claim to the infringing song in the YouTube system of if they just stopped blocking the video with the ATS song (but are still collecting some advertising revenue to this day from both songs despite not owning the copyright).

Of course, there’s probably no way for ATS to find this out.

midofo (profile) says:

best bit of vice article

I think the most poignant part of the article is the last question:

Q: “If you were offered a record deal by Universal right now, would you take it?”

A”… We’re not even Universal artists and they think they can push us around, imagine what they’d be doing to us if we were actually signed to them.”

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Youtube should end whatever deal they made. It is being abused.

That deal is the kind of thing that keeps YouTube from getting sued.

Doesn?t matter whether they win the lawsuits or not, they just want to avoid the time, expense and hassle of having to fight them. It?s easier to give in?even if it means going much further than the law requires.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Partly Right

Mike, you are right, this is a bit complex. If I understand correctly (and I may not) part of the song (the vocals I guess) was by a UMG artist, and part of the song (the beat) was by someone else. So how does copyright resolve this?

UMG may have a proper claim to the vocal part, but the other guys may have a proper claim to the beat part. Can copyrights be split, and then who has say so over the takedowns?

My head hurts.

Violated (profile) says:

Re: Partly Right

This song was made before Yelawolf became a UMG artist and so this is nothing to do with UMG. When he did become a UMG artist the recording had to be abandoned for contract reasons.

It is an interesting case when no one can really own this leaked recording. Yelawolf did not license this track and can’t now without UMG claiming it. ATS can’t use it either because they can get voice approval. Then of course this has nothing to do with UMG.

Only the public can be thankful it was leaked when they are now the only people who can use it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Partly Right

Actually no. Him getting signed to UMG before or after really does not have much to do with it, other than he is now a UMG artist.

The indie group made the beat, offered it to Yelawolf, Yelawolf never got back to them, never paid for the beat nor gave any indication he was going to use it. The indie group who made the beat and owned complete copyright on the beat turned around and recorded their own song to that beat and released it on their own indie project.

Some time later, a song by Yelawolf on the indie groups beat is released, renamed with no mention of the indie group anywhere. The indie group gets mad, not because he put something out on their beat because that is common, but that he didn’t give them credit for production of the beat or the fact it was their song and he just renamed it. They worked that out, everyone went on with their lives, until the indie group tried to release the music video they made for their song that they released on their project they own 100% copyright on… which UMG took down and is now claiming ownership of.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Partly Right

If I understand correctly (and I may not) part of the song (the vocals I guess) was by a UMG artist, and part of the song (the beat) was by someone else.

“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. “

The takedown was of a song that had nothing to do with Yelawolf (the UMG artist) and was all ATS (the indies). And even if it had been Yelawolf vocals with an ATS beat, that song was recorded before Yelawolf signed with UMG, so UMG still had nothing to do with it.

Violated (profile) says:

UMG again

I would have liked to say people make mistakes and no real harm done.

However it is clearly a huge mistake for UMG to claim ownership on YouTube of a song that they do not own and have not licensed. This is no simple mistake when their own database would clearly tell them that this is not a song they have made.

They may have noticed the leak and made a note of that but it is ATS and not UMG who have to Police their own creation on the Internet. So in no way should UMG ever claim it is their song and to make matters worse UMG may have been sending DMCA take-down notices to many sites to censor both the leaked and official songs.

In the end this only reflects the “media grab” nature of YouTube, how UMG is the king of media grab, and how both this YouTube system and DCMA law is rampantly abused.

Then is it not interesting how we are currently going through a tornado of proposed copyright reform laws but…

Violated (profile) says:

Re: I changed my mind

All those laws are one sided.

Take down a dozen sites and millions of songs all falsely then they can just walk away laughing. At most the punishment is minor.

This does not compare in the slightest to the hundreds of million of dollars for sharing a few infringing songs. Jamie Thomas makes a good example.

The law there is totally screwed and devoid from reality. That reminds me add “lower punishment for non-commercial file sharing” to my fix list when we soon invade Congress.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

When a major corporation (Goggle) has to assume that copyrights can only be held by corporations, to avoid litigation, this should show that copyright is broken.

Well all hear the stories of Copyright it is to protect the little guy, where he is what is really happening. Corporations are using their monopoly rights to squash other copyright holders content. There is nothing that will happen to UMG, because they wrote the rules. The rules punish the hell out of the average citizen for daring to do something in violation of their copyrights, but when the Corporation violates copyright nothing happens to them.

Laws need to apply both ways.

Mar`Pai says:

A little something about Copyright

Just because the band gave Yelawolf permission to use the track to perform ONE song, doesn’t mean they gain any control over it. I give Fictionpress.com permission to publish my poetry, and I can turn around and also publish it to ANYONE else I so chose, because it is my work.

UMA NEVER had permission to request the song be taken down for ANY reason. The original band owned the copyright free and clear, their insisting it be taken down was a form of intellectual theft and they should be help accountable for the lost promotional opportunities.

it would be like If I sold one of my poems to the UMA then turned around and gave the same poem away free to the entire USSR. It’s MY poem. By US law that’s my right.

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