Copyright And The Harlem Shake: Selective Enforcement
from the use-it-share-it,-except...-you dept
For those of you who have managed to avoid the viral sensation of February, known as “The Harlem Shake,” consider yourselves lucky. People still seem at a total loss how this became “a thing,” but it involves the opening 30 seconds of a song released nearly a year ago, called The Harlem Shake, by Baauer, with the first half involving someone in a wacky costume (often involving a helmet) dancing while others around them ignore it, followed by a bass drop and suddenly everyone around is dancing crazily, often involving costumes, stuffed animals (or real animals), people in sleeping bags and much much more. It’s gone quite insane (and, yes, we know it’s not “the real Harlem Shake” but so what?) with way, way, way, way too many people, companies and organizations all doing their own versions. There were reports of 4,000 Harlem Shake videos being uploaded to YouTube every single day, and over 60,000 being on YouTube already. If you want (and I warn you to be careful), you can spend hours going through video after video. The KnowYourMeme link up top has collected some of the most popular ones. I cannot vouch for how many such videos it takes before you are driven insane, so be forewarned.
Over the weekend Baauer’s song hit number one on the charts and it appears to be doing fairly well around the globe. Also, the song has resulted in a sold out show in NY for Baauer and what is likely to be a fair bit of money. That’s because, rather than freak out about others using “his” song (which includes a bunch of samples), Baauer and his label Mad Decent have a deal with INDmusic, which helps indie labels/musicians claim YouTube videos via ContentID and place ads on them. So, combine a top selling song on iTunes, plus allowing the free use of it on YouTube (and monetizing it via ads) and it seems like a tidy profit is being made.
So, for a bit, this was looking like yet another story of how letting people build something on your music was enabling a nice way for one artist to make money, without flipping out about “copyright infringement.” But… then we learned that it wasn’t quite that simple. As highlighted by The Verge, while Mad Decent and Baauer have mostly let people do what they want with the song, they did send a takedown to Soundcloud over Azelia Banks posting her lyrics over the entire Baauer track, and also posting a video:
That quickly turned into a bit of a Twitter fight, with Banks calling out Baauer:
“I’m not happy about it,” says Baauer. “She had a version that we were going to release because I’m a big fan of hers. We knew she likes to beef with producers. So she laid something on ‘Harlem Shake’ and it was so/so. Didn’t love it. And that was a little while ago, and since all this video stuff happened, our plans all changed. Because of that, we decided to just release the song on it’s own with no vocal version. So we told her, ‘Please don’t release your version.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m going to put it online anyway.’ And we said, ‘Please don’t. We’d really like it if you didn’t.’ And she did.”
Still, while lots of folks are defending Baauer here (in part because Banks does have a reputation for getting into arguments with people, and in part because she also went on a homophobic rant), she did have a point when she tweeted this:
“I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track,” he says. “And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense.” He laughs. “There’s the sound of flames in there, too, it’s just really low.”
He doesn’t know where the “dude in the beginning” comes from — though, the folks at Reddit have figured it out (because Reddit knows everything). You have to imagine that wasn’t licensed, though, if he didn’t know where it was from. Who knows about all of the other samples. Personally, I think it’s great that he created something by building on the works of others, and was inspired to create something that has become such a huge hit. But you’d think that someone who made the song by pulling bits and pieces from others wouldn’t be so fast to sling claims of “ownership” back at someone else who built off of his work. Yes, there’s more to it than that and, for the most part, Baauer seems reasonably giddy with all the insanity (and he definitely seemed to do a nice job with his Reddit AMA thanks in particular to this exchange).
It would just be nice if artists who really build on the works of others didn’t jump to claiming ownership when others build on their works as well.