Why the DMCA Is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Artists

DMCA: Helping Artists?
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The DMCA has been criticized as a cynical loophole to exploit artists.  But what if that isn’t true?

Google, SoundCloud, YouTube, and others are routinely accused of exploiting a 1990s law to profit off of copyrights without paying for them, but now, the technology industry is challenging those accusations.   The following guest post comes from Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), who argues that instead of stealing from artists, the technology industry and the DMCA have created a free platform that has allowed a new class of creators to thrive.

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Imagine if 13-year-old Justin Bieber had never uploaded his Chris Brown cover “With You” on YouTube. Would he be the pop icon he is today?

Rising stars like Bieber, the Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and so many others have seen their careers skyrocket thanks to outlets like YouTube and Vine, underscoring how profoundly the music industry has been positively disrupted by technology.

Digital music services are growing the bottom line for the recording industry and artists alike. Global music revenues for digital services in 2015 surpassed revenues for physical music for the first time — up 10 percent in just one year. So why are big labels trying to undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which ensures artists get paid for their work?

Backed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), more than 180 big-name musicians sent a letter to Congress saying the DMCA is broken, technologically out of date, and exploited by internet companies. They also suggested artists aren’t getting paid for their music.

The reality is, via the internet, Silicon Valley has built the recording industry a vast and powerful new global platform for content distribution and monetization — all for free. Independent music has thrived as direct result of the DMCA.

In 1998, the Senate passed the DMCA with unanimous consent, and was carefully written to strike a between protecting copyrights and providing consumers access to digital content across a variety of platforms. This balance is enshrined by an idea known as a “safe harbor,” which says that if an online platform is responsible and removes user-generated content, after being notified by a rights holder that it infringes copyright, the platform is protected.

Safe harbor has allowed thousands of musicians to post their music on streaming sites and be paid for their work while reaching new audiences. This principle has helped make the internet a booming economic success.

More, internet companies have programs in place such as Content ID on YouTube that pinpoint pirated content. Still, the music industry elects to monetize nearly all duplicative online content, rather than blocking it.

To date, YouTube has paid music industry artists $3 billion, and half of that revenue has come from user-generated content. Perhaps this is the best example of how the DMCA benefits platforms and consumers, and mostly importantly, remunerates creators.

In spite of this economic success, record labels continue to seek new strong-arm powers to pull down any content they don’t like.  Now, they are demanding so-called “take down, stay down” — new government mandates requiring companies to monitor and filter their services.

This tactic echoes the controversial 2012 Stop Online Piracy Act, aimed at curbing internet piracy, by censoring the internet. SOPA was handily defeated in Congress after a mainstream and grass-roots internet uprising against the damage it would cause. It’s surprising that the RIAA would advocate for this concept again, given that it would stifle online innovation and creativity.

The DMCA was pushed by the RIAA, and we agreed to support it, as we believed — correctly as history has proven — that it would allow a blossoming of content creation and innovation.  Indeed, instead of a handful of RIAA labels controlling music, artists have greater control of their own work.

The law allowed legal music platforms to flourish and thus new entry points for musicians.  Studies show it has dramatically reduced music piracy.  And independent artists are using the internet to advance their careers without being at the mercy of record labels and other legacy gatekeepers.

Perhaps that’s why the number of independent musicians ballooned 45 percent from 2001 to 2014.

Rather than fighting song by song to limit music online, let’s focus on championing increased access to legal music, simplifying music licensing to enable new entrants, building transparency into the rights flow so artists can see where the money goes, and diversifying the type of services available to consumers.

The DMCA is a critical tool to reach that goal.  The law is optimally balanced and will continue to grow both the internet and music industries.

It’s time for artists, labels and streaming services to work together — strengthened by the power of technology — to make our current copyright system a success.


Image by asenat29, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).

29 Responses

    • FarePlay

      The defining question of the moment is for artists. How badly do you want to protect your work? Because if you don’t care there are hundreds of thousands of people who want your work for free and they will fight you to keep it that way.

      If artists don’t take a stand now, you will lose what may be your last chance to save your careers. It’s that simple.


      • Troglite

        Based on the number of comments, 3 times the number of musicians are interested in talking about michael jackson than the DMCA. Not a good sign for those of us who would like to see stronger protections from tech companies who feel entitled to use our copyrighted works without direct compensation.

  1. Anonymous

    Oh boy! I can’t wait to see the response to this one…
    *grabs some popcorn and pulls up a chair*

  2. Versus

    Too many problems with this to argument them all. Here are a few.

    Claim: DMCA allows artists to monetize their content on streaming platforms.
    Response: Artists could better monetize their content on streaming platforms if they could choose and control which streaming platforms it appeared on, and forbid it from appearing on illegal (and NON-MONETIZING) platforms. That would require a stronger law than DMCA.

    Claim: It’s a better situation than those evil record labels, always limiting artistic “freedom”.
    Response 1: Have you asked artists what they prefer? I, for one, do far better (financially and in terms of building fan-base) with record labels, and have not felt exploited or artistically compromised in the process. There are good and bad labels, and good and bad label deals. Let’s hear from others.
    Response 2: The lesser of 2 evils (if you really think labels are evil) does not make a good. (See: US election). It would be a far better situation in the “new music industry” if artists can choose where there music is available, not have it stolen, sorry, “shared”, without their consent.

    Claim #3: “history has proven” that new technology has fostered a musical golden age of creativity and innovation.
    Response #1: Uncontrollable laughter.
    Response #2: Where is this proof?
    Response #3: Quantity ≠ Quality

    I could go on but I have to go have a stiff drink and a good cry.

  3. Kingsley

    We’ve got to get a bead on this piracy thing. I’ve been saying it for years.

  4. Future

    I’m so happy DMN published this article. Finally, the other point of view as well as some plain and simple logic. Pointing out that the majors (RIAA) fighting their fight only is meant to keep them in power. If they had their way, artists would have no chance without them. DMCA was a big step, absolutely. The next step, if the labels really want to improve the overall industry and not just their own pockets, is a universal database of rights information. Easily accessible and tracked so services can pay royalties to the proper owners. Once we achieve that the money will be rolling in.

    • Versus

      I don’t follow this logic.
      Piracy hurts indie labels just as much (if not more) than major labels, and completely independent artists even more, especially those who do not have time or money to chase down all the infringements.

      If a given artist wants to give away his/her music for free, that is their right, DMCA or not. However, if an artist does not want to do so, that should be his/her choice as well, and his/her work should not just be taken by the wanna-be Robin Hoods (who are actually often stealing from the poor, not the rich, as most musicians are far from rich).

    • Paul Resnikoff

      I’ve heard a lot of theories as to why this database has never come to fruition. After all, the tools to create a universal database have existed for more than two decades. Why hasn’t it happened?

      • Sarah

        As I’ve heard, it was going to happen a while ago….

        Labels, publishers, and tech companies were all in complete agreement that this database was absolutely necessary. So they got together to make it happen.

        Then one of the participants (probably a tech co) asked: “Who is going to build and maintain this database? Who is going to pay for that? Who gets to earn profits from the database?”

        And, just like that, no database.

        Now, those are completely valid questions: there are significant costs in building and maintaining such a database, and the data it would contain has real value (folks like HFA know how valuable such data is). But it seems at the time that they couldn’t agree on answers.

  5. Anonymous

    Did you guys actually read the article (if there is one, I didn’t check)?

    Why would you want to do that?

  6. Dogu

    funny to hear about “take down – stay down” without the mentioning of Google. seems their lobbying efforts work out well. i really see no reason against a “take down – stay down” in connection with DMCA. the technical tools are there to make it happen easily. and why can’t Google filter out those sites in their rankings when they repeatedly get reported for infringement? we know they can do it for child porn. the reason is simple. they make money out of that traffic.

    same thing with all those youtube, soundcloud, whatever downloaders. just because the technique is there to download all the music from videos or streaming platforms it doesn’t mean those tools are legal. somehow i nearly never hear about those downloader programs and they always get offered to me in google search results without looking for the. for me they are one of the reasons why people care less and less about soundquality cause mostly those mp3s are low res. but i even know people that only listen to quality indie music but then use those downloaders to have the music on their phone and then don’t really care about the quality of the mp3. that was a shock for me when i first realised it.

    the main problem in the field of DMCA is google. they have the technical abilities but do not want to help the artists and musicians cause the make tons of cash through their system. the times of google’ slogan “don’t do evil” are funny episodes of the past.

    btw, i said artists and musicians and did not mention labels cause i am sick and tired of the “label = evil” relation. don’ t people notice that there are numerous, nearly uncountable indie labels out there that work fairly with and for the artists and are often even run by artists but only 3 “evil” major labels?

    what paul said about the data base is so right. tools are there since decades but those that are in power at the mechanical collecting societes, be it ascap or gema or sacem or in whatever country in this world they sit, are either dinosaurs when it comes to technical tools or they simply fear their job being in danger. imagine one universal database for international copyright data that evrrybody rregistershis music. it would make everything really simple (licensing, mechanical collecting, etc) but also a lot of people in the food chain of overblown collecting societies useless and their jobs erasable.

    • Sarah

      “the times of google’ slogan “don’t [be] evil” are funny episodes of the past.”

      It’s funny that you mention that – I used to think that was a really cute, friendly slogan. Then someone pointed out what an incredibly low bar they set for themselves with that: don’t be evil.

      Not “do the right thing” or “be fair or honest.” Just “don’t be evil” … which still leaves plenty of room for run-of-the-mill dickishness.

      • Dogu

        yes absolutely right sarah. it’s like the mafia on the surface acting like quality busines/ and family men and in the background doing all the dirty killing, drug business, etc.

  7. Anonymous

    It’s not remotely optimized or balanced, it still far too heavily empowers and protects the huge corporate entities of the recording industry and doesn’t provide enough legal protection or representation to smaller, independent content creators, and the recording industry routinely violates the actual bill itself without consequence, and the bill contains no real countermeasure against abusive, unfair, or just plain wrongful accusation. But the record industry wants you to believe that it’s a Pirate Protection Law made by pirates, for pirates. When really it’s their own damn bill that they wrote to further their agenda.

  8. GЯ0uИD

    “The law allowed legal music platforms to flourish and thus new entry points for musicians”

    DMCA has nothing to do about it. It’s just the organic growth of technology.

    The article is regular DMN BS. Keep it up guys, you are better than a comedy club!

  9. indielableguy

    The DCMA favors IT over copyright owners, always has and still does. Any argument to the contrary is purely designed to mislead. What if Justin Beiber had been paid fairly for all those streams? But, what if they never happened because no one was willing to pay for it? There is no such thing as a free lunch……… IT has been gorging at the expense of copyright owners for long enough. End the madness! Songwriters and performers need to eat and pay the rent every bit as much as the Google fat cats.

  10. Jan Mancuso

    Artists and labels, especially indies, should be using their time to make music, manage their careers and their businesses, not chasing illegal downloads and pirates all over the globe. As Maria Schneider said at the Grammys, ‘it’s like mack-a-mole’, it keeps coming back. Every day I receive news alerts with our artists names/works in them and links to illegal downloads and could spend every hour of every day submitting takedown notices to ‘Sonny Bono’.
    We need some help out here!

  11. DavidB

    Sorry, I couldn’t read beyond the first sentence. Any twat who cites the rise of Justin Bieber as a reason for applauding anything is not a credible commentator.

  12. Diogenes of Sinope

    Cancel my subscription. DMN has turned into the Silicon Valley cesspool.

  13. Sarah

    You’re not paid a fixed amount because on YouTube you are NOT being paid for your content at all.

    You are being paid for your assistance in delivering ads – and your payment is thus determined by the value of the ads you help deliver, which is obviously much lower than the value of your content to your audience.

    • Versus

      Good point. All the more reason we need statutory minimum or fixed rates established for streams, including YouTube streams.

      • Sarah

        A statutory minimum or fixed rate is certainly fine to pursue as one course of action, but the “hoping for the government to fix things for us” approach clearly isn’t a great one to count on if you want things to get better any time soon. In lobbying, when it’s tech companies versus music industry, the music industry does not have the advantage on any front.

  14. Ari Fine

    First off I would like to clarify that I am all in favor of having a multitude of ways to reach out to an artist. Having the DMCA has no doubt exposed a lot of growing artists like Shawn Mendez and Tori Kelly, but for musicians who are more locally known, it’s not a good tool for promotion.
    I have seen plenty of local bands performing in low, hunky dunk garages, worn out bars, and university grounds outside of a library, that sound 100 X’s better quality than the top 10 hits on billboard (In my opinion of course). The DMCA maybe exposing more artists through streaming and other internet venues , but many local bands don’t want to have publicity through those kinds of means. The $3 million that was distributed to artists, and yet you never mentioned which artists were making the profit. Are we comparing The Weekend and Justin Bieber to smaller less-known artists such as Bernhoft, Asageir, or Matt Costa?
    Whether you agree or disagree with what DMCA had done or is doing, they have gotten monetization and copyright protection much better in the past few years. An occasional lawsuit can occur over a popular song on the radio that could have similar chord progressions to an old 70’s RnB tune, but besides this small ordeal, the DMCA has been a pretty positive shift in the music industry.
    To end my ongoing monologue, local artists and the RIAA need to come together and provide a quality service to the public that would appease the unappeasable audience.

  15. Anonymous

    Nothing will change as long as Google owns the US government. You people are silly if you think otherwise.

  16. Nobody Important

    How about the part of the DMCA that requires service providers to comply with takedown notices immediately even if those takedown notices are questionable or entirely fraudulent? How about the fact that copyright owning companies can and do constantly pull down material that qualifies for fair use protection with no recourse? How about the thing where youtube’s ContentID system is used on a daily basis to automatically turn any material ALLEGED to be copyright infringement into ad revenue for the copyright claimant with absolutely no human intervention required? How about the fact that the RIAA hasn’t talked about any of those things at all in its completely spurious spiel about how they totally need tech companies to play whack-a-mole for them because they say so?