Copyright Conundrum: Was 'Public Domain' Music Silenced On YouTube?

from the it's-in-the-recording... dept

Mark Guertin writes in with an interesting situation that he's dealing with, which I think highlights some of the problems with copyright law today. Guertin put together a YouTube video of some swimming pugs as part of a promotion for a charity he's involved with. Knowing that music on videos is a potential copyright issue, he went to Wikipedia to find some public domain music, and chose Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries to accompany the swimming pugs.

Except... he got blocked. YouTube's content ID system told him that the song was owned by (who else?) Warner Music Group, and thus the soundtrack was muted. Guertin filed a counternotice, and the music was reinstated, but then muted a second time as apparently someone (Google/Warner?) didn't agree with the counternotice. Without knowing the details, my guess is that the situation has to do with the different types of copyright coverage. While the song Ride of the Valkyries is public domain, each individual recording of it is covered by copyright. It seems likely that whatever recording was used is still under copyright.

Guertin is reasonably upset about the situation, especially the whole concept of having the music blocked until WMG has a chance to weigh in on it, noting that "guilt before innocence" seems incredibly unfair.

But the bigger issue may be how this (once again) shows how out of sync copyright law is with what people think is reasonable or fair. If you found out a piece of music was in the public domain, it's natural to assume that a recording of that same piece of music is in the public domain. And to make things more confusing, that's absolutely true (in the US at least) of a photograph of a public domain painting. But making a new recording of a public domain song? Bam. A new monopoly created.

Unfortunately for Guertin, the track he used probably is not in the public domain, even if the music is (yes, that's confusing). That's why, these days, it's probably more reasonable to search out Creative Commons-licensed music than public domain music -- because you can't be as sure whether the PD part covers the recording as well as the music. To some of us, that seems like a problem with current copyright laws, while others appear to view it as a feature.
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Filed Under: copyright, music, public domain, recording, ride of the valkyries, videos, youtube
Companies: google, warner music group, youtube

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  1. identicon
    Jim, 5 Aug 2009 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Re: US copyright law - souind recordings

    There are several sources of public domain music. - public domain classical music performances. - the internet archive. - project gutenberg.

    The internet archive has The Ride of the Valkyries here - - The performance is from 1921 so it is clearly in the public domain. I believe this is the file on project gutenberg here:

    Mark -- please update the video with this music. I still want to see how it works out. This has potential.

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