Can a YouTube channel post audio for songs it didn’t produce? What happens when PR agencies, artists and labels give YouTube channels permission to help boost artist profiles? Can artists later enforce their rights, request songs be taken down and demand royalties? Below, we unpack some lessons following YouTube music channel, Majestic Casual’s copyright claims.
Don’t Stop the Music
Majestic Casual, a YouTube channel with over two million subscribers, has constantly been in the news for the past few months for violating third party copyright. The popular channel, which deals with mostly deep house, hip-hop and electronic tracks, was one of the first music-based channels on YouTube. Majestic Casual’s listeners subscribe to the channel as it frequently uploads tracks produced by a variety of artists and DJs, rather than one particular producer. The channel launched in 2011 in Stuttgart, Germany, and since its inception has fallen prey to multiple copyright infringements. Most recently in November 2015, Majestic Casual’s YouTube profile page was suspended with a message that said:
“Majestic Casual has been terminated because we received multiple third-party claims of copyright infringement regarding material the user has posted.”
While the channel returned three days later and is still running today, the constant suspension and reinstatement of the channel are unsurprising, considering that all of Majestic Casual’s content is copyrighted material produced by other artists.
Many artists grant permission for their songs to be posted, and later once they become popular, they demand to regain control of their music and lodge copyright claims. These artists often launch copyright claims on the same channels which helped them break to become popular.
YouTube owner, Google, has provided up to $1 million in legal fees to assist content creators in defending DMCA notices for videos that represent fair use such as remixes. Fred von Lohmann, Google’s copyright legal director, has said in an official blog post that Google recognises that artists “can be intimidated by the DMCA’s (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) counter-notification process and the potential for litigation that comes with it.” This is not a shocking move when it is evident YouTube generates significant revenue from music channels through video advertising.
In any given song or musical track, copyright is usually attributed to various owners, including the composer, lyricist, artist and record company. In Australia, copyright continues for at least 70 years from the date they are created, and for a further 70 years after the death of the author. In circumstances where music is downloaded in a different country to the one the downloader is in, both countries’ laws will apply, and owners can enforce legal action in any country where an infringer is located.
It is not permissible to distribute music online without the permission of the copyright owner, even if this is not for commercial gain. On YouTube, where songs are reproduced, synchronised or reworked, permission must be granted. For Majestic Casual, tracks that are uploaded onto its channel must be cleared by the original copyright owner. Moreover, posting the entirety of another artist’s video is unlikely to fall under the fair use exception.
To protect music rights on YouTube, artists have a number of options including digital watermarking, uploading low-quality recordings and advising users a high-quality version is available, attaching a copyright notice next to recordings and providing contact details on how to distribute and buy tracks. While YouTube automatically scans uploaded videos using Content ID to identify copyright infringement, we recommend artists enforce their rights on YouTube where any use does not fall within fair use. Major YouTube channels such as Majestic Casual tend to adhere to copyright claims to avoid suspension of their channels (and advertising revenue).
If you have any questions about enforcing your rights as a musician or artist, ask our IP lawyers on 1300 544 755.