Copyright Issues

Copyright Infringement and Online Music Instruction

I think Rick Beato’s YouTube channel is one of the most important resources for up and coming songwriters and performers you’ll find online. I don’t always agree with his analyses, but that’s music for you. There are many ways to analyze what’s going on in a song, and you’ll always learn if you keep an open mind.

I highly recommend checking out Rick’s channel if you’ve not done so before. As I say, it’s a great and important resource, Rick knows his stuff, and you will learn! As you likely can tell, I am a fan of his site and his work.

Rick BeatoOne of his most recent videos is a rant around the whole issue of copyright infringement, which you can view here. Rick does an excellent series called “What Makes This Song Great?” in which he takes the performance and structural elements of a song apart to show how it all works. In so doing, you’ll learn the practices of professionals, and hopefully a thing or two that you can apply to your own work, whether you’re a songwriter or performer.

The thing is, it’s pretty much impossible to do a “What Makes This Song Great?” video without playing samples from the actual recordings of those songs. So much of what makes a pop or rock song great happens right in the studio when it gets recorded. How can you effectively talk about it or instruct others if you can’t use examples from the actual recordings?

And because he uses excerpts from original recordings, that’s where trouble can arise. As he shows in that video, he gets hundreds of “demonetization” notices from YouTube, where because his use of a particular song is deemed to be an infringement of copyright, the money he might otherwise make on that video goes to the artists, and, at least from the money aspect of the notice, he’s fine with that.

The cause of his latest video rant, though, has to do with the fact that a) YouTube took down his video on a song by The Cars, and then b) issued a “strike” against his account. Two more strikes and his account can be deleted.

You’ll notice that Rick is extremely respectful when talking about other people’s/bands’ music, if you check out his videos, and I’ve never heard him trash or even give a negative view of a song. As I do on this blog, he mainly talks about good songs, and what we can learn from them.

And he rarely plays anything more than a few seconds of a song at a time in the process of instructing others. Whether you like his work or not, it’s all done purely for the purpose of instructing others in the practices of professional musicians.

What got me writing about this today is that it’s becoming a very common thing for someone to play actual recordings of songs on a YouTube channel, and of course I understand the problem: if folks are simply playing music from someone’s channel instead of using ways that allow the artists to earn money, of course the copyright owners are going to take issue with that.

But I think it’s time for YouTube (but governments, really) to address this particular issue of music being used in the way Rick uses these songs. He rarely plays more than a few seconds at a time. It’s just not possible that someone is going to forgo legally streaming a song simply because they heard nine seconds of it on Rick Beato’s channel.

And in fact, all the evidence is out there that some artists are gaining an entirely new audience for their songs that were hits 40 years ago, being given new life via someone’s YouTube channel. (“Viral Video Of Twin Brothers Reacting To Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ Sends The Track To No. 2 On iTunes“.)

I understand the loopholes that occur when you start deciding who can stream songs, how much can be streamed, and what would constitute acceptable use. Maybe someone else is out there right now running a video series called “What Makes This Song Suck?” Should copyright holders not have the right to control how their songs are used?

I think video services like YouTube, governments and artists and their reps need to get going on a deeper conversation around this issue, and the sooner the better. YouTube is a great way for good instructors to teach others how music works, but it works best only if those instructors can use actual excerpts of an original song recording.

I’m not a copyright lawyer, or any kind of specialist in the legalities of copyright, but if there were some sort of directive that said that as long as the video producer is using less than x-number of seconds of a song at a time, that the copyright holder needs to demonstrate how that use will lead to tangible losses for that copyright holder in order for the video to be demonetized or blocked.

Once that happens, I think legitimate teachers who are simply trying to use 21st century technology to reach a larger “classroom” can do that work more effectively, and I believe we’ll all be better for it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. The weird thing is that that there are millions of videos that simply contain whole songs and even albums. I never fail to find a song if I want to hear anything.

    If this strike has come with human intervention it really shows copyright lawyers in a bad light.

    • Yes, you’re right. I can’t think of a song that I can’t easily find. I did a video once describing some aspect of songwriting, and used John Newman’s “Losing Sleep” as an example. I used short 10-15 second-long excerpts to demonstrate something to do with lyrics, if I’m remembering correctly. I got notification to either silence the excerpts or take the video off completely. And yet, I can right now go on YouTube and find dozens of copies of the song, some posted by Newman himself, some by others, some by radio stations, etc.

      So that kind of lack of consistency seems really odd. I think in Rick Beato’s (and other instructors’) case, they just want to play small snippets simply to demonstrate a concept. In so doing, they’re likely turning a bunch of new fans on to the song. It should be a win-win, but industry famously takes a long time with stuff like this.

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