SoundCloud Regroups Following Criticism Of Its Copyright Takedown Policy
Mar. 30, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — In 1952, John Tudor premiered John Cage’s controversial three-movement 4’33’’ in Woodstock, New York. The piece is composed for any instrument and requires the performer to not play their instrument for the full 4’33’’. In 2002, songwriter and producer Mike Batt allegedly paid a £100 000 out of court settlement in response to a copyright infringement claim brought by the Cage estate for a track titled “A One Minute Silence”, which was literally just one minute of silence. In 2015, DJ Detweiler uploaded a track titled John Cage – 4’33 to SoundCloud. The track was flagged and removed by SoundCloud for containing unauthorised copyrighted material. The track apparently wasn’t silent, but made unauthorized use of Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean. Either way, DJ Detweiler’s upload was intended to draw attention to SoundCloud’s users’ growing dissatisfaction with its copyright policy.
SoundCloud was criticized for being lazy in policing violations and for automating its take down procedure, leaving users with no explanation or opportunity to be heard if their uploads were flagged, tracks removed or accounts suspended for alleged copyright violations. It’s a difficult situation for SoundCloud which relies on uploads by content creators such as DJs, producers and radio stations, which often take the form of remixes and mash-ups that consist of snippets taken from other artists. When faced with an infringement claim by a content owner, SoundCloud must obviously act and flag/remove the tracks in question.
All this has changed with SoundCloud’s recent licensing deals with Warner, Universal, Sony and the Merlin Network. Previously Sony, the latest label to sign the deal, initiated takedowns of its music on SoundCloud due to lack of monetization opportunities. SoundCloud has addressed this with talk of a subscription streaming service, which in fact launched this week (US only). The subscription service would benefit current users by granting listening access to content from the major labels who have signed with SoundCloud, while still allowing those users to upload their own tracks. SoundCloud will scan uploads for infringing material and content owners (the major labels) will have the option to either file a takedown notice for violations, or have any revenue generated from that upload directed to them. The deal also affords the labels the choice of making tracks available for free, or under the subscription service exclusively. A choice not offered by rival Spotify, which saw Taylor Swift pull all her music from Spotify in 2014.
A number of things to watch. Whether SoundCloud’s current 175 million users will be willing to switch to the subscription streaming service, and whether SoundCloud would prove itself a serious competitor to Spotify (30 million users) and Apple Music (10 million users). SoundCloud, however, has four times more music than Spotify and Apple, so the new subscription feature has game changing potential. Let’s also see how the monetization deal with the labels will pan out and whether SoundCloud will overcome accusations of laziness when dealing with takedowns and revenue calculations. Especially if someone like Girl Talk becomes more active on SoundCloud.