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.