Houston, We Have A Copyright Problem

from the not-this-again dept

Parker Higgins has a troubling story over at Medium about how he received a bogus copyright takedown on a recording of the famous “Houston, we have a problem” audio snippet from the Apollo 13 mission, which Higgins had uploaded to his Soundcloud page. As Higgins notes, the audio is clearly, without any doubt, in the public domain and free from any and all copyright restrictions — yet it was still taken down. This is particularly stupid on a variety of levels. Not only is Higgins an activist with EFF who works on copyright policy, his job before that was working for Soundcloud, in part helping them get more historical archival footage on the site! The takedown itself was obviously questionable, given the nature of the content, but bizarrely, whoever sent the claim in claimed to be the crew of the mission itself:

Perhaps more annoying, as Higgins notes, is that the reasons that Soundcloud gives for disputing the takedown… don’t apply in this situation, because they all assume copyright:
As Higgins notes this shows the rather nasty assumptions of “permission” culture that everything must have a copyright and everything must be licensed:

It’s a dangerous myth, that we should all need permission any time we’re getting value out of a piece of culture. And it’s one that gets entrenched deeper each time we accept the idea that we’re able to make use of a work because a copyright owner is or would be OK with it, and not just because we have a basic right to participate in culture that is more fundamental than anybody else’s desire to maximize profits.

Every time we discuss the public domain and how it’s increasingly difficult to (a) get anything new into the public domain or (b) determine if something is in the public domain, people seem to dismiss this, as if it’s not really a problem. But it is a big problem — and much of it brought about because of our over aggressive copyright laws, and the potential liability it puts on companies.

We’ve lost a valuable chunk of the public domain, then, even without the complicity of online services. But those sites feel pressure, too: the minimum they must do to stay inside copyright “safe harbors” is prescribed by law, and many go further in efforts to be on good terms with media companies. That looks like overzealous algorithmic copyright enforcement, like the automated system that caught my upload after some partner presumably laid claim to it (and who knows how much else).

Even as these companies and services strive to be massively accessible public spaces—SoundCloud bills itself as “the world’s leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere”—they reflect mostly corporate priorities, because they face far too little pressure from the other side. That is, from users who wish to participate in culture, and who don’t want to be treated like criminals.

This sense of copyright being the default and everything else the exception is backwards. It was never intended to be that way. In fact, the system was explicitly designed to be the reverse. It is supposed to be about providing limited protections for the purpose of benefiting the public. But now it’s turned into a giant “minefield” in which everything is simply a potential liability, creating a dangerous “permission culture,” that chills speech and innovation.

Higgins titled his essay on this, Houston, we have a public domain problem — but the public domain is not the problem here. The problem is the overaggressive nature of copyright laws that have totally flipped the equation. Copyright is supposed to be the exception, not the rule. And yet, decades of fierce lobbying has completely changed that around, much to the detriment of arts, culture and innovation.

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Companies: soundcloud

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Comments on “Houston, We Have A Copyright Problem”

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John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, sure, writing them an e-mail and explaining that copyright doesn’t apply is one solution. Though the sound file (and maybe the entire account) will be down while SoundCloud decides on whether the claim or dispute is valid.

The better solution would have been for SoundCloud to tell the fraudulent “copyright holder” to go jump in a lake. But as Mike said, if they did this, they open themselves up to liability if the person decided to push the issue.
So, to save their own a***, SoundCloud errs on the site of copyright claims.

Of course, this mess could be avoided if hosting companies required more proof than a simple takedown request. If the “copyright holder” says he’s part of the Apollo 13 crew and owns the copyright, let’s see some proof.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

NASA didn’t have the copyright because by law nothing they produce can be copyrighted. It’s automatically public domain right from the start.

Someone using that public domain content in a movie doesn’t give them any rights to the public domain content — although they might have copyright on a clip of Tom Hanks saying those words.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder how long SoundCloud will remain a popular site. There’s the bogus takedown notices including the removal of works by the original artist.

I’ve also heard of people’s accts. being removed for posting mashups (mixes/edits of 2 or more songs to make a new song). They’ve also removed people’s dj mix sets.

I’m a working dj and on a facebook group I’m in for djs in my town there’s already discussion of moving to other services since soundcloud is becoming shaky ground.

Damien Y. Bizeau says:

Damien Y. Bizeau

The N.A.S.A is a highly respectable entity. It is a large U.S agency with a good global influence usually. I clearly recall my tour at Cape Canaveral in Florida twenty five years ago, it was very well organized. The N.A.S.A, "Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum" in Washington D.C is definitely very interesting too in my opinion! Thank you for considering that when you deal with the N.A.S.A you are "subject to America" at some of its finest level! This is what I have recently concluded from my personal experience in terms of copyrights; the international matter I have been implicated in with the N.A.S.A since 2004 was "no good" because there is still no Common Internet International Laws, which is a huge problem that will be very challenging to solve I think. Damien Y. Bizeau.

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