The Murder Hornets Of Copyright Infringement Bots

Apparently, things were way too easy for everyone figuring out the world of live classical music online content delivery. #sarcasm So, to help keep things spicy, copyright infringement algorithms (bots) decided to use the authority on behalf of their owners to shut down your live stream and/or archived content.

The 5/21/2020 edition of the Washington Post published an eye-opening article written by Michael Andor Brodeur on this topic and here’s the nutshell version of what’s going on:

  • Organizations and individual musicians are having live performances shut down, even mid-event, if an algorithm determines what they are playing is too similar to a recorded version from a content owner (i.e. record label).
  • Videos saved in playlists or channels can also get removed for the same reasons.
  • Account owners flagged for allegedly violating copyright can have accounts suspended until the dispute is resolved.

The way the system is designed, copyright owners are favored in this process so there’s nothing creators of live content can do but hope they don’t get flagged by the bots. It’s worth mentioning these algorithms are designed to search and destroy popular music piracy which means they are ill-suited for dealing with classical music.

Consequently, and not entirely unlike like murder hornets, there’s not much stopping them from wiping out a live performance should they decide to slap a dispute charge.

You can see where all of this gets really ugly when a cellist wants to perform something from public domain, like a Bach Cello Suite, and a record label’s bot thinks it sounds a bit too much like one of the dozens of versions they have recorded by one of their artists.

This doesn’t mean copyright owners who unleash their murder hornet bots are some sort of moustache-twirling villain. They are protecting their intellectual properties within a digital environment where music pirates run rampant.

Caught in the middle of this are the tsunami of arts orgs and artists trying to remain connected to their audience base and <gasp> make a little earned income.

Few Roadmaps Exist

Interestingly enough, the problem of hyper aggressive search bots has been going on for some time. This field hasn’t dealt with it because of the low amounts of live and archived event content produced.

One area where this war has been raging for years are content creators that have recorded music interact with their subject material. For example, gamers that produce live game streaming, reviews, and shop talk frequently run into this issue thanks to the amount of copyrighted music in most video games.

If the music works its way into the YouTube video, even for a few seconds, it becomes a target for the copyright infringement bots. For these professionals, having an account shut down for a week to settle an automated dispute equals a huge loss of income.

I wish there were a happy ending to all of this, but that sector has had little success at finding ways to improve the allegation dispute resolution process in a way that doesn’t disrupt general commerce. Consequently, there aren’t many examples there to use for helping minimize the current pain inflicted on live classical music streaming.

For now, there’s no rush to make things better.

According to the WaPo article, copyright owners expressed frustration with online platforms like Facebook and YouTube over a lack of interest to help improve these algorithms, so they aren’t as aggressive with classical music. At the same time, they aren’t exactly broken up over the fact that they have a decided advantage over the organizations and artists trying to leverage online performances.

Moving forward, perhaps the best that can be said is forewarned is forearmed. Then again, that’s probably as reassuring to artists and arts orgs as it is to the honeybees who know murder hornets are en route.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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