Just when you thought it was safe to go back in to the copyright music waters, things get murky again. While copyright law has been around long enough at this point that most people have at least a vague understanding of the field, poorly researched online chatter has managed to turn much of the law into something that is once again almost incomprehensible.
The problem is that the issues aren’t surrounding whether or not a song belongs to one person or another, the problem now has become whether or not using that song for something like background music in a self-produced video on YouTube is violating those copyright laws.
The Thin Lines Between Promotion, Fair Use and Copyright Infringement
The problem is that people do not generally benefit financial directly from the videos they post on YouTube. Certainly, the counter argument is that the people who have managed to make a living off of these videos are making a living off of their name, and therefore playing music in the background isn’t copyright infringement as much as it is simply fair use.
It’s not as though these people are putting those songs out there, claiming they are their own and then charging people to purchase the full download. It can also be argued that if someone is putting up a video that might be a funny workout video (or a real workout video) and they are playing “Eye of the Tiger” that they are actually promoting the song rather than making money off of it.
These performers will often argue that they were actually giving the artists who performed the songs some props and even drumming up interest in the songs they are playing. Of course, this argument doesn’t hold a lot of water, considering advertising campaigns use these
songs in roughly the same way and still have to pay the rights to use them. The counter argument is always that you are incorporating the songs into something that is earning you money and therefore the original artists are owed a cut of that cash.
Video Game Music and the New Paradigm
One of the biggest reasons this issue is in the new again is because of websites like Twitch that allow people to broadcast their video game exploits to the world. This practice has become one that is quite popular all over the world and once again, the issue of copyrighting is a big issue. The difference is that there is music playing in the background of most video games and some companies and artists are bristling at that music being played without first obtaining the rights to do so.
This has led to Twitch starting to mute archived videos of people playing videos with copyrighted music in it. Once again those that are against this level of copyright enforcement argue that playing these games is only making them more attractive to their followers and in that regard is helping the game make more money. These Twitch personalities are also unpaid directly because of what they are doing on the site, so there isn’t a specific amount of money a company can move to seize.
There may actually be a better argument when it comes to video games, because for its part, Twitch has said it doesn’t plan on attempting to mute content that is live streaming. Instead, the site is only going after archived footage. So why the distinction? Part of the issue is the software that does the muting only works on archived footage the broader question though, is whether or not video game companies understand their content is going to be shared and copyrights on this music isn’t as strong or as enforceable. Even if it is enforceable there are real questions throughout the industry as to whether or not it would be remotely smart to enforce them in this regard.
Who Gets Paid For What?
When it comes down to it, the biggest problem for people who are using the services online is knowing who gets paid and how. The artists themselves can sometimes be the ones who can say who can use a song and who can’t, but sometimes they are not aware of the royalties and fees that have been put in place by their music publishers. These companies are looking after the rights of the artists who make a living by practicing their craft.
Knowing exactly what songs are free to the public domain and which ones are going to get someone squeezed for infringing on a copyright is a tricky business that is only getting trickier all the time. Dealing directly with the publishers, instead of taking a band’s word for it seems to be the best bet in today’s world.