Well, well. A few days ago, the Verge got a huge scoop in the form of Sony's original US contract with Spotify
, leading to a ton of discussion (mostly focused around the huge "advances" that Spotify guaranteed Sony, and the related question of whether or not Sony actually passes those advances on to musicians). The debate raged on for a couple days, and late last night, Paul Resnikoff over at Digital Music News noticed something interesting: the original contract was now missing
, and The Verge's own website claims it's due to a copyright
threat from Sony:
On Twitter, the Verge's editor-in-chief Nilay Patel admits that a threat from Sony
forced the site to take down the contract.
In fact, he claims that Sony actually sent four
cease and desist letters claiming copyright infringement:
Earlier this week, Resnikoff reported that Spotify was apparently putting pressure
on publications not to report on the contract, including "dangling threats" to scare them off. However, Spotify would have no copyright argument here. As the Verge report (still) notes, the contract was "written by Sony Music," meaning that if there's any copyright claim (we'll get to that shortly), it's held by Sony Music.
And we all know damn well that Sony loves to throw around bogus copyright threats. Even we
have received one concerning reporting on Sony Pictures' leaked emails. Sony has threatened lots
of other publications as well, and even Twitter
over such leaks. And, Resnikoff notes that Sony Music threatened his site for an April Fool's joke
, pretending to reveal internal emails concerning Sony's equity stake in Spotify.
So here's the question: why did Vox (the owner of the Verge) cave? For a modern media operation, it must have lawyers that know the threat is bullshit.
Yes, it is possible to get a copyright over the contract, but it's likely to be a pretty thin copyright, because the amount of "creative" work in the contract is minimal. Much of the contract is likely boilerplate. But, more importantly, the Verge has a slam dunk fair use case here. They're providing commentary on the contract. It's a matter of public interest. They're not "selling" the contract and they're certainly not harming the "market" for the contract itself, of which there is none.
We actually dealt with this issue once before -- two years ago when Apple pulled the same bullshit move to pull down
a contract that Resnikoff himself had posted on Digital Music News. Somewhat ironically, the first party to report on that... was the Verge
! And in their report, they quoted law professor Eric Goldman noting the ridiculousness of it:
"It's just kind of a jerk move. We all know what's happening here. Apple doesn't care about protecting the copyright of contracts. It's using copyright to try and suppress information that it doesn't want made public."
Sounds about right when applied to Sony in this case. Besides, all this is really doing is drawing much more attention (yet again) to the contract, on a story that had already started to die down.