SoundCloud Has Given Universal Music Group The Ability To Directly Remove Content

from the more-power,-less-accountability dept

As Mike recently covered, SoundCloud’s infringement takedown system has more than a few issues. The EFF’s Parker Higgins had uploaded a recording of the Apollo 13 astronauts, something clearly in the public domain, but SoundCloud took it down and the “remedies” available to Higgins all assumed the removed content was covered by someone’s copyright. And, like many takedown notices, there was no indication who had requested the removal, or if it was simply SoundCloud’s automated infringement bot making bad assumptions.

Now, there’s more bad news for users of SoundCloud’s service. Apparently, Universal Music Group has the power to directly pull tracks without issuing a takedown request to SoundCloud. This has resulted in a paying customer of SoundCloud having his account deleted for copyright violations with the only recourse available being to contact Universal directly to dispute the takedown.

The user, Mr Brainz, pointed out to SoundCloud that he sees some inconsistencies in its copyright enforcement. His account is being targeted but other mixes from other users are being left alone, despite their inclusion of copyrighted tracks.

[click through for a larger versions of these screenshots]

SoundCloud’s response to his complaints was basically, “It’s out of our hands.”

Your uploads were removed directly by Universal. This means that SoundCloud had no control over it, and they don’t tell us which part of your upload was infringing. If you look at your tracklist it may help you find the Universal content they wanted blocked.

The control of removing content is completely with Universal. This means I can’t tell you why they removed your uploads and not others, and you would really need to ask them that question.

I don’t know what method they use to find infringing material unfortunately. Their anti-piracy team are based in the US.

SoundCloud now has a YouTube problem. In an agreement reached in 2011, YouTube gave UMG the same sort of direct access, which has resulted in abusive, bogus takedowns by the label. This looks like more of the same. While SoundCloud is certainly under a lot of pressure to police uploads for infringing content, handing direct control over to an entity that once declared SoundCloud to be a “pirate site” was never going to work out well.

Now that Mr Brainz’s problems have gone public, SoundCloud has issued a statement in response… and it doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

As a responsible hosting platform, we work hard to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. In the case of rights holders, that means having processes in place to ensure that any content posted without authorisation is removed quickly and efficiently.

In the case of users, that means having separate processes in place to ensure that any content removed in error can be reinstated equally quickly. If any user believes that content has been removed in error – for example, because they had the necessary permissions from Universal Music and/or any other rights holder – then they are free to dispute the takedown.

Translated from PR speak, the statement basically says that the end user is out of luck, especially in the case of Universal’s direct takedowns. Does anyone seriously believe Universal will look into challenged takedowns? There’s nothing in this unfortunate partnership that indicates Universal can be held accountable for bogus takedowns. Beyond that, there’s nothing in the long history of the DMCA that indicates any rights holder will be held responsible for bogus takedowns, much less be willing to engage in a useful discussion about fair use or other edge cases.

If Universal orders a takedown, the content is gone and the user’s account is one step closer to being shut down. End of story. In Universal’s case, there’s no consideration given ever for fair use. Other takedowns, some of them the result of a misfiring algorithm, can still be disputed, but the process SoundCloud has provided doesn’t factor in fair use, public domain or other instances that aren’t clearly cases of infringement. And if you get enough bogus takedowns, your account — even your paid Pro account — is dead and SoundCloud won’t be handing out refunds.

When a service becomes popular enough that infringement detection needs to be automated, problems are necessarily going to arise. Bots aren’t perfect, but that’s the reality of the situation if you’re going to retain your safe harbors. But giving rights holders the ability to directly pull the plug on content is a bad idea and providing no real avenue for dispute only makes it worse.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: soundcloud, universal music

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “SoundCloud Has Given Universal Music Group The Ability To Directly Remove Content”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Ninja (profile) says:

The use of bots could be forgiven if there was a way to dispute and restore these takedowns as fast and easy as they take it down. As for ceding such ability to a 3rd party like that without any due process is atrocious by itself, even if the users had the same power to restore their stuff. But the icing in this turd cake is giving such control to a company that hates you.

If SoundCloud is looking to go out of business this is a good start.

Anonymous Coward says:

Megaupload gave certain studios direct access to its servers so they could delete infringing stuff themselves i believe and now they are suing Megaupload because it did do not enough to stop infringement despite the studios having direct access to the servers to delete the infringing stuff themselves.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They didn’t have direct access to the servers to delete the original infringing file, but MU was providing the most access in comparison to the rest of the file storage services on the web at the time.

I doubt it’ll end up getting raided like what happened to Dotcom though. That seemed like the US was trying to make an example out of the founder more than anything (which has backfired spectacularly, btw).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

MU processed them super fast despite not being bound by US law.

You are thinking of HotFile where they gave WB(iirc) special access and they went hog wild deleting things they did not own, had no rights to, and just didn’t like the fact it was there. iirc (what I’m old) they were real worried about this coming out in court when they were suing HotFile as a jury might go what do you mean you gave them way more power than the law allowed, they abused the hell out of it, and still sued you?!

That One Guy (profile) says:

And another site bites the dust

Glad I never spent any money on that site now, just hope Bandcamp doesn’t follow the same route, hate to have to boycott the source of all my listening music.

Hope they at least got some money when they handed over control of the company to Universal, hate to think they got nothing but a ‘Well, okay, in return for complete control over what your users upload we’ll probably not sue you into oblivion’, even if that’s likely exactly all they got ‘in return’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I said stop looking behind the curtain!

Yes indeed, those ‘pirate’ sites are really running scared, barely hanging on… in some other world where they aren’t replaced by two others when one of them goes down.

The internet was never a ‘wild west’, unless by that you mean the old industries never could clamp down on that pesky ‘choice’ and ‘alternatives’ that it offered their former captive audience/’employees’, and you might have trouble finding unbiased people who believe that more choice is somehow bad for customers and creators.

Also, if you would, could you point to where exactly ‘copyright infringement [is] being prosecuted’ here, because all I’m seeing is a company being given the power to pull tracks with absolutely no limits and no accountability, no ‘prosecution’ in sight, just ‘we/our bot says that song/song snippet is ours, therefor you’re guilty’, and if you need some evidence of just how incredibly faulty those ‘detections’ can be, I’m sure I can find several examples without too much trouble.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nah, it’s nowhere near the end. People will go back to f-serves and ftp announces on irc like from say 2006 and prior if push came to shove that hard (meaning there’s still loads of means).

I’m a guitarist and I’ve got several videos of me covering classic thrash metal bands on youtube with the real track playing in the back with my (well, after lots of practice and imo) guitar just perfectly playing over it so you hear what I’m doing. Never had a single takedown and there’s one cover of a particularly difficult song to play where I got 15 000 hits, and the content id bullshit hasn’t been able to do crap, and I cover some Slayer who without any of them making a move to do so ended up on a major label since the mid 90’s (label mergers).

When they manage to take this sort of stuff down is when I’m gonna be outraged. I remember when they tried to take down LYRICS sites and also GUITAR TABS around 2007-2008, they succeeded in killing many sites and now stuff impossible to find, that I have printed thankfully, but their fight will always be in vain.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What about the actual independent artists who use this platform to distribute and promote their own works, which Universal can now remove at a whim if they don’t like them?

Nah, you don’t give a shit about them do you, only your corporate gods. You’re to stupid to even recognise the promotional value (and thus increased revenue) for Universal in the mixes being removed, let alone give a crap about the innocent people who are guaranteed to be affected by this.

Just keep on with the same lies, it will hopefully speed your own demise.

andypandy says:

Re: Re:

Seriously torrentfreak is amazing and i love the fact that i can see these illegal actions and justify my sharing content with others more and more each day.

I cannot wait for the day someone decides enough is enough and has the financial backing to sue these music monopolists into oblivion. All it takes is one person demanding to know why their content was taken down and why the industry refuses to allow legal recordings that are fair use, i would love to see this guy take Universal to court, he has more than a 80% chance of winning even not knowing what content they are taking his paid account down for.

And no excuse that that computer did this, and it was a mistake, they know what they are doing there are too many people that have problems with fair use being targeted and it has been going on too long if they were interested in allowing fair use material they would have stopped the computers from taking that content down.It would be great if the courts banned the use of automated systems and with no warnings and discussions about fair use.

it would be even better if they had to give up all the software they use for taking down content and investigators finding they knew and specified fair use content, i would sue them for billions.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Users and Rights holders

What I like most about SoundCloud’s statement is that they automatically consider users and rights holders separate and distinct entities. Up until now, I thought the assumption was supposed to be that their uploading users were the rights holders. This shows how SoundCloud feels about its users.

SoundCloud better hope UMG doesn’t use that statement to show in some court that SoundCloud has always intended uploaders to not upload their own content.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh it's worse than that

Beyond that, there’s nothing in the long history of the DMCA that indicates any rights holder will be held responsible for bogus takedowns, much less be willing to engage in a useful discussion about fair use or other edge cases.

Unless I’m missing something, these are not DMCA takedowns, which means the (theoretical) limits, protections, and punishments in the DMCA don’t apply here. Universal, and any other company that can strong-arm SoundCloud into giving them this level of control can simply lay claim to, and pull, whatever they feel like, with no limits at all, and no punishments if they get it wrong.

I can only hope that enough users of the site learn about this is are willing to drop their accounts there and move elsewhere, causing a noticeable hit to SoundCloud’s profits, as after selling out their customers like this SoundCloud deserves to suffer for it.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Oh it's worse than that

These aren’t DMCA takedowns, but they’re still built upon the foundation laid by the DMCA, which established the basic principle that content can be removed by an extrajudicial process involving an accusation alone, and then the person posting the content is considered guilty until proven innocent. The DMCA lies at the root of everything bad about digital copyright in the modern age, and every newer abuse we’ve seen enacted or proposed builds upon it.

When a weed grows in your garden, there are two ways to get rid of it. You can cut it off at the ground, and it’s gone… until it pops up again. Or you can rip it out by the roots, and then it’s gone. The only way to truly fix copyright abuse is to rip it out by the roots: repeal and reverse the DMCA. Restore the sacred legal principles of Due Process and the Presumption of Innocence. Outlaw the use of DRM in any form for any reason. Make it crystal clear that the rights of people, not copyright owners, come first, and no one has any right whatsoever to infringe upon them until they have been proven guilty in a court of law.

Only when we’ve managed to accomplish this will we make any meaningful progress against copyright abuse. But as long as the root’s still in the ground the same weed keeps popping up. We cut off SOPA and PIPA, and now we’ve got it growing right back as the TPP. Looks like we’ve just about managed to kill that one, but it’ll grow back again soon enough (and it really didn’t take long, did it?) unless we rip it out by the roots!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: WHO wants to break sound cloud..

SC/UMC: It was a bot that made the mistake, we’re… sorta kinda sorry. Maybe.
Judge: Well, they said it was a mistake and they’re sorry, that’s good enough for me, case dismissed.

Companies never get punished for issuing takedowns, or in this case just removing the stuff directly, no matter how insane and glaringly wrong the takedown/removal is, you should know that by now.

Anonymous Coward says:

compare to human property

This is another example of how there is an extra-judicial process for claiming intellectual property, which works exactly like the extra-judicial process which was used to claim human property in one part of the country by “owners” in another part of the country, in the first half of the 19 century.

Anybody could go up, claim, and take property, if it looked like a duck, without going to court.

Anonymous Coward says:

The law

Why would any online service grant direct removal access to copyright holders?

Such a system is not required by law.

The notice and takedown procedure only requires the online service provider to have a takedown system per url, and the copyright holder must jump through several hoops to get there.

So why does Soundcloud go beyond what the law requires?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: That's a nice company you got there, be a shame if something were to happen to it...

Much like the youtube ‘ContentID’ system, they put such systems in place, and make such concessions, due to threats.

Threats of ruinous legal fees(doesn’t matter how right you are if you’re driven under due to court costs), threats of changes to the laws to hold them personally liable for the actions of their users, and similar things.

Anonymous Coward says:

“If any user believes that content has been removed in error – for example, because they had the necessary permissions from Universal Music and/or any other rights holder – then they are free to dispute the takedown.”

What if they illegaly remove a song of a person that can no longer access SoundCloud account?!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...