White Noise On YouTube Gets FIVE Separate Copyright Claims From Other White Noise Providers
from the ad-absurdum dept
The implications of YouTube’s ContentID system in an era of user-generated content can sometimes be quite muddy. It is widely known that ContentID is open to abuse, and that it is indeed abused on the regular. However, too many stories about that abuse play far in the margins of what the average person could look at and recognize as a very real problem.
This is not one of those stories.
Instead, the story of how one music professor’s upload to YouTube of 10 hours of pure white noise was flagged five times for copyright infringement (FIVE TIMES!) operates as though someone somewhere is trying to bring a reductio ad absurdum argument into physicality.
That’s what’s happened to Australia-based music technologist Sebastian Tomczak, who uploaded a completely non-infringing work to YouTube and now faces five separate copyright complaints. One of Tomczak videos was a masterpiece entitled “10 Hours of Low Level White Noise” which features – wait for it – ten hours of low-level white noise.
“The white noise video was part of a number of videos I put online at the time. I was interested in listening to continuous sounds of various types, and how our perception of these kinds of sounds and our attention changes over longer periods – e.g. distracted, focused, sleeping, waking, working etc,” Tomczak says.
I could embed the video, which you can find on YouTube here, but I won’t bother because the video is exactly as advertised: ten straight hours of white noise. Tomczak composed this white noise himself, in all of its beautifully non-creative glory, making the copyright claims all the more absurd. Remember, copyright only applies to new creative works. White noise would not qualify. Now, the video is still available despite the copyright claims because the four different entities filing these five complaints against it — one, incredibly, filed twice for two different “compositions”– chose to simply monetize Tomczak’s video instead of having it taken down.
As seen from the image below, posted by Tomczak to his Twitter account, the five complaints came from four copyright holders, with one feeling the need to file two separate complaints while citing two different works.
My ten hour white noise video now has five copyright claims! 🙂 pic.twitter.com/dX9PCM1qGx
— Sebastian Tomczak (@littlescale) January 4, 2018
As you will see, several of the complaints came from representatives of folks creating white noise compositions as sleep therapy or for other therapeutic effect. This, it should hardly need to be noted, does not somehow make Tomczak’s independent composition that is equally devoid of creative output somehow infringing. White noise is white noise for a reason, after all. This isn’t even a case of what to do about copyright in the event of independent creation of the same creative works. Judge Learned Hand’s famous line on independent creation notes: “[I]f by some magic a man who had never known it were to compose anew Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ he would be an ‘author,’ and if he copyrighted it, others might not copy that poem, though they might of course copy Keats’s.” But white noise is no “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” There simply is no copyright here at all.
Still, the story is immensely useful in demonstrating just how vulnerable to abuse ContentID and copyright claiming systems can be on the internet. The original claim against this video dates back several years, which means that for some time others have been profiting from Tomczak’s white noise, with nothing in the way of human intervention on YouTube’s end that would take one look at this whole thing and proclaim the claims ridiculous. In this case, this all happened to someone, Tomczak, who seems to largely not care about the claims beyond being mildly amused by them.
Tomczak says that to him, automated copyright claims are largely an annoyance and if he was making enough money from YouTube, the system would be detrimental in the long run. He feels it’s something that YouTube should adjust, to ensure that false claims aren’t filed against uploads like his.
But that lax attitude doesn’t change the absurdity of a reality in which ten hours of white noise can be flagged by four different outsiders as infringing, all the while the copyright industries scream that Google and YouTube aren’t doing enough to clamp down on copyright infringement.