The Many Faces of Copyright, Pt.2: Music

The case of movies and TV shows is rather simple because the industry can be treated as one entity – while there are several major studios and publishers, they tend to share very similar approaches and practices. And since almost every single relevant production comes from them, these few companies can reliably serve as representative of their industry. This is not, however, the case in music, where the distinction between mainstream and indie is much more pronounced and relevant.

The former has traditionally been very hostile toward all kinds of online sharing, even before the era of Youtube – with the famous 2000 court case of Metallica vs. Napster being probably the best known example. Such approach largely carried on to Youtube, with major labels aggressively protecting their artists: in the case of a song being published by itself over a static image simply taking the video down, and when it was used as background for original content, by muting the video. A very unified strategy for major mainstream labels emerged with the entrance of VEVO to the service in 2009, moving nearly all popular artists’ videos onto VEVO-branded channels and strictly controlling what part of a given album is available on Youtube, and what needs to be paid for.

In terms of the presence of copyrighted material on the service, the case is somewhat peculiar. On the one hand, because content ID matching is much easier and more reliable for audio than is it for video content, publishing the property of major labels without altering the songs in a major way is close to impossible. This, in practice, makes the VEVO-branded channels the only real source of mainstream music on Youtube. On the other hand, though, while it is difficult to pirate songs into the service, it is incredibly easy to do it from it, through various methods of audio ripping. As the practice is very popular, it puts the industry in a paradoxical situation where the hit singles meant to serve as advertisements for the whole album end up stolen, and the whole package largely ignored.

While the mainstream is a very cohesive, controlled environment, the indie scene on Youtube is more of an anarchy. With thousands of different labels and even more self-releasing artists, each one with their own marketing strategy, the scene is almost impossible to consider as a whole. Still, there are some major characteristics shared by a large majority.

For the most part, the indie part of Youtube music community seems to be more aware and appreciative of the discoverability that comes with the platform, realizing that in order to make money, first they need to establish an audience. Hence, those artists, often virtually unknown outside of a very small circle, will either publish all their music themselves, or thank those who did it rather than try to take it down. Such healthy relationship between the artists and the listeners allows for the existence of unmonetized passion project channels that specialize in posting new releases in a given obscure subgenre, including all the relevant links to support the artist – often providing the visibility crucial for a band to make a name for themselves. (Specimen #1, Specimen #2, Specimen #3) The relationship, then, seems to be mutually beneficial – the listeners get their free music, the artists get their exposure. It also appears to be more healthy in purely artistic terms, as the success or failure of a given project is more about the actual quality of their music than is is about millions spent on marketing.



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