Music Licensing — Grrrr! Arrgh!

Yesterday Saundra asked me about music licensing for YouTube videos; my reply turned into a bit of a rant, and since I don’t like to waste a good rant, here is an edited version of what I sent her.

The short answer to the music licensing question is I don’t do anything about it; I let GooTube handle it. (I’ll use GooTube to refer to the Google/YouTube industrial complex.)

And here is what they do:

Most of the time GooTube is very good at finding and identifying music in my videos (they can identify it to the specific recording and more generically as well), and most of the time they simply tell me that they have identified it, but that I don’t need to worry as my account is still in good standing, and they just put a button below my video that allows the viewer to purchase the music from one of several online music stores. Very civilized.

One of the first videos I ever uploaded to GooTube was a very short one of a portion of a bike race. It was a little over two minutes long and just showed the cyclists emerging en masse from around a corner onto Ridge Avenue, followed by some stragglers, and then both groups returning. For the music (and really it was nothing without the music) I used a track I had found on an old video that some anonymous Microsoft employees had put together to show how an iPod’s packaging would look if it were a Microsoft rather than an Apple product. I didn’t know what the music was, but it had fast uptempo sections that I used for the mass of cyclists and quieter passages that I used for the stragglers. The music worked perfectly for the Microsoft video and pretty damn well for my bicycle video, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, GooTube identified the music as a Danny Elfman track called Breakfast Machine (From “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”), and they put a button below my video to let people buy it. When I saw that, I bought a copy myself from the iTunes store for 99 cents. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I’m listening to it now. It’s a very catchy piece.

About a month or so ago, I noticed that GooTube had silenced that video because the music violated copyright or something. So I deleted the video, because without the music it was boring. And it’s not like anyone would grab the music from the video because the video included the sounds of the cyclists, etc. Nor was I in any way profiting from using it; if anything the copyright holders might see an occasional purchase from time to time. Very strange.

On some of my other videos I see a notice that they are blocked in some countries because of copyright violations. That’s the case with video of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary (people in Germany can’t view it). By the way, that’s the second video I ever edited (from VHS tape footage shot in 1993 by two relatives) and it’s probably my favorite of all the ones I’ve done. It has flaws and if I were doing it today there are a lot of things I’d fix, but I still like it a lot. Probably for sentimental reasons…

Go ahead and watch it; I’ll wait…

Something else that’s strange: The videos of the final piece in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Pop-up Concert, which the conductor Yannick explicitly gave the audience permission to record, are marked as “Matched Third Party Content”. The music is the Polonaise from Chaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, well over a hundred years old and clearly in the public domain. The performance itself doesn’t match any commercially recorded performance. But there is a company that licenses the orchestra parts for that piece and they are claiming it as theirs and GooTube is going along with it. I protested, but GooTube overruled me. It really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t prevent anyone from viewing it, but it’s the principle of the thing.

As a side note, the two videos of that concert that I uploaded are 1) the raw footage that I recorded on my iPhone and  2) a mashup of thirteen of those videos, or as the Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns put it: “one with several camera angles edited together to suggest a multicamera PBS production.” He didn’t mention my name though. Or even give me a link.

Anyway, I think the mashup (not really the best term for it, but I thought it might attract the youth audience) is the far more interesting video, and I spent the better part of a week editing it and teaching myself how to use Final Cut’s Multicam editing features in the process, but because my first video had a head start, it has and is still getting far more views than the mashup (843 vs. 84). It has more Likes as well (5 vs. 1). I believe when someone searches for the pop-up concert, my original video appears much higher in the rankings because it has more views and Likes; a self-perpetuating cycle.

Go ahead and watch it. I could use the views. And if you like it, maybe you could Like it by pushing the thumbs up button.

Then there’s The Case of the Indiana Jon Video. It went from Matched Third Party Content, to Video Blocked in Some Countries, to Video Blocked World-wide (no one could view it), back to Matched Third Party Content. It uses the last five minutes of the end title music from the first Indiana Jones movie, starting in the middle of the music. There are other sounds on the video, like rushing air, dialog, etc. In other words I can’t imagine anyone “stealing” that music from my video. What I guess is happening is that the rights holders are changing their minds from time to time over how they want to handle these things.

Right now the only videos of mine that don’t have a notice of some sort next to them are:

The two Sunday in the Park With George videos, both of which consist entirely of clips from the video of the Broadway show.
The Dick Van Dyke Opening Times Three which shows the three different openings of that classic show side by side (this has been my most popular video so far with over 37,000 views).
The two videos of my Ken Jennings (no, not that Ken Jennings) interview which consist of audio from my interview with him while clips from his performance in Sweeney Todd are flashing by.

What they have in common is that they all are clips I took from DVDs. If they don’t match third party content…<sigh>

Sorry this is so long, but when I start on a rant, there’s no stopping me. Did I answer your question?

Update 2/6/2014: I just noticed that the videos which indicate they are blocked in some countries cannot be viewed on mobile devices.

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