Sony Music Says a Harvard Copyright Lecture Violates Its Copyrights…


YouTube invented ContentID to give content owners a quick, effective method to police their copyrights.  But is this too blunt of an instrument?

We bring you to the leafy cloisters of Harvard Law School, where a YouTube-posted discussion on music copyright has been ripped down by major label Sony Music Entertainment.  The teardown isn’t based on disagreements over the nuances of copyright policy, rather the right to present certain Sony-controlled songs within that presentation.  Specifically, at least one of several versions of “Little Wing,” originally performed by Jimi Hendrix but covered innumerable times.

Those clips form a critical exhibit about compulsory licenses, essentially blanket licenses that allow artists to record covers of a copyrighted song.  Which is just one part of this complicated copyright universe:

Simple misunderstanding, right?  Wrong: the teardown is nearly a week old, which suggests that Sony Music doesn’t view the truncated songs as fair use.  Instead, Sony may be asserting that the clips should be separately licensed, despite clearly satisfying qualifications of fair use and not copyright violation.

Indeed, it’s this exact type of heavy-handedness that gives copyright owners a seriously bad name, and obscures the more serious issues around actual copyright theft.  It also burnishes the bullying image that has ultimately transformed music fans into self-justifying pirates.

Then, there’s the rich irony that makes labels like Sony look absurd, and gives plenty of ammunition to opponents.  “Considering how frequently we hear the RIAA and other copyright system supporters (especially within the recording industry) arguing that what the world really needs is better education on copyright issues so that the public better understands it, it seems particularly stupid to issue a takedown over a free lecture explaining music copyright,” blasted Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, who covers the issue here (bolding is Masnick’s).

“But, of course, no one ever suggested that the recording industry is particularly intelligent in how it goes about fighting its peculiar war.”

The presentation itself, licensed under Creative Commons, can be downloaded here.  


19 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “a YouTube-posted discussion on music copyright has been ripped down by major label Sony Music Entertainment. The teardown isn’t based on disagreements over the nuances of copyright policy, rather the right to present certain Sony-controlled songs within that presentation.”

    Um, and exactly what right is that, Paul?

    No court would call this Fair Use unless the clips were very few and extremely short — and I wouldn’t even bet on it in that case, either.

    Music is extremely well protected, and Fair Use is almost never found, except in the case of parody. I’ll post a link to a lot of Fair Use examples in a separate comment below.

    Educational institutions can and should get away with a lot of gray-area stuff, but they are not allowed to publish other people’s IP on commercial sites like YouTube.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      I’ve heard from attorneys that fair use can be a tricky claim, and it’s gray at best. But really? A Harvard lecturer using a Hendrix clip, not even the full thing to demonstrate compulsory license structures around covers? It seems absurd that this would be taken down.

      • Anonymous

        Again, nobody I’m aware of disputes the moral right to use copyright-protected content in education. At least, nobody’s doing anything about it.

        But Harvard is a commercial instituion, and it’s crossing the line when it’s publishing the file on a commercial site.

    • Teach

      Damn straight. I teach at a college, and the school is constantly pushing us to make more and more content available through the school’s learning management website. The students are paying around $26,000 a year, and the school’s president is compensated like a Fortune 500 CEO. The colleges and universities that can afford to pay to license should license, and those that can’t should be more circumspect about the ways that they use other people’s intellectual property. Hiding behind fair use is the cheapskate way out.

  2. Jeremie Varengo

    “Simple misunderstanding, right? Wrong: the teardown is nearly a week old, which suggests that Sony Music doesn’t view the truncated songs as fair use”

    Or it suggests that the intern in charge of checking the Content ID claims disputes is not sure what to do about that one and/or did not even check it yet.
    Or that there’s nobody at their end taking care of handling the disputes 🙂

  3. Anon

    The only reason SME (and it probably wasn’t them, it’s probably a company like Audium) would issue a take down notice is if the person who was posting the video was attempting to monetize it and thus make money off of SME’s copyright. If it had been posted with no advertising, then it probably would have gone unnoticed.

  4. AA

    Nah, the commerciality is not one of the more probative of the four Fair Use factors. If these clips were used primarily to tell a larger story and not merely for their expressive value, this is almost certainly Fair Use. The most relevant case on something like this is probably Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley.

  5. The cure for ignorance

    Um, Educational fair use is one of the most clear-cut exceptions in the doctrine. 99 percent of the time it doesn’t have to be adjudicated. I am fairly convinced that this video will be restored in short order.

    As to the brainiacs who pretend to know what a court would or wouldn’t decide should Harvard exercise an affirmative defense (a right in US Copyright Law, by the way), consider that judges weigh four factors to make a determination. In this instance, the purpose and character of the use, along with the effect on the market for the original work, coupled with the time-honored educational exceptions make this a pretty strong candidate for fairness.

    Honestly, I hate piracy as much as the next person. More, I’m certain. But this braggadocio of supposed “music people” is infuriating. You look ignorant, and you aren’t doing your side any favors by refusing to recognize that copyright isn’t a hermetically sealed, unassailable, eternal property right. It also has a constitutionally established public interest component. Or is your soul so dead and your imagination so tiny that you can’t recognize this? In which case, please do not ever work with creators, because we don’t need your paucity of vision anywhere near our enterprise.

    And I say this as someone who tends to favor moral rights for authors (not copyright owners, but AUTHORS. You know, one of the two parties mentioned in Article 1, Clause 8, Section 8?).

    There’s tons of info about educational fair use out there. Maybe spend less time acting like you know what’s good for creators and bone up.

  6. Anonymous

    Geez, just saw a few minutes of the video — that’s not education, that’s a Harvard commercial. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I’ve never seen anything like it… more than 30 seconds of a copyrighted song, published in good quality, without permission, for commercial purposes, by a commercial company, haha.

    I seriously hope YouTube re-uploaded the video as part of its anti-copyright crusade (it pays the legal costs under certain circumstances to make a point).

    In that case, Sony could succeed where Viacom failed and finally break YouTube’s neck. This is one of the cleanest infringement cases ever.

  7. doos

    another example of your completely broken and shattered copyright system america.